PM Notebook
A few tips on commonly encountered problems
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.          

So you’ve started conducting daily stand-up meetings, but the results are disappointing to you and the project team.  The good news is that it is possible to have effective daily stand-up meetings.  Unfortunately, the bad news is that all too frequently, stand-up meetings just don’t work well.  If you want to get the benefits from a well-executed daily stand-up meeting, your team will want to properly diagnose your situation, make some adjustments, and confirm that you have achieved improved results.  You’ll repeat these iterations of successive improvement as necessary to get the performance the team wants to achieve.  To help with your diagnosis, here are points to examine on your daily stand-up meetings.



New Behaviors for a New Type of Meeting

In part, successful daily stand-up meetings are about behaviors in a team setting – recognition by each team member that there is a new norm that requires their conscious effort to implement.  When you first started daily-stand up meetings for your project, you (hopefully) trained team members about the daily stand-up and established your team norms for participation in the daily stand-up meeting and follow-up working sessions.  This article can help you reinforce these norms by giving suggestions and examples that will help with your timely identification and correction of problem situations. 

 

Checking the Foundation for your Daily Stand-Up Meetings

Surf around on the internet and you’ll have no problem finding various lists of problems encountered by project teams in running their daily stand-up meetings.  For the most part, these lists deal with specific difficulties during the stand-up meeting itself.  We’ll get to those same types of issues in the next section of this article, but first let’s revisit at some aspects of your organization or project team that can derail your daily stand-up meetings before they even begin.

 

Is your project team ready to conduct a daily 15-minute meeting to synchronize the activities of the team members?  It will take more than just setting aside those 15 minutes each day – that, indeed, may be the easiest aspect of a successful daily-stand up.  Once you’ve conducted five or ten stand-up meetings, use these diagnostic questions as part of a retrospective (conducted specifically on your implementation of daily stand-up meetings):

  • Is this the only time we get together as a team?  Ken Schwaber is clear in the Scrum Guide that a daily stand-up meeting eliminates the need for many other project meetings.  However, if this is the only time the team gathers as a whole then you’ll find it difficult to constrain discussion to those topics on the limited agenda of the stand-up meeting.  Over the course of a project, team members will want time to bring up various project topics, share insights about the project and the organization, engage in informal chat on business and non-business topics, and interact in ways that help team members become more familiar with one another.  If there are no other meetings or activities that offer opportunities for these types of exchanges, then there will be an ever increasing pressure to bring these topics into the daily stand-up meeting.
  • Is there a plan in place that is a anchor point for the progress information to be shared in the daily stand-up?  Your “plan” shows the work activities for team members; it might be as simple as an action item list, a bit more involved in the form of a burn-down chart (with accompanying story cards), or as complex as a fully populated MS-Project schedule.  Without this overall definition of work activities,  there is no context to the progress information reported by each team member and it will be all but impossible to determine if each day’s progress is sufficient towards achieving the project goal.  You’ll need an agreed plan that is highly visible and easily referenced (and perhaps updated) during the daily stand-up.
  • Are we having working sessions as a follow-up to all of the issues/obstacles raised in our stand-up meetings?  More specifically, if an obstacle was raised in yesterday’s stand-up, was a working session conducted (to resolve this obstacle) prior to today’s stand-up meeting?  We all know that the daily stand-up is to share information about progress, not to resolve issues.  A corollary to this is that every identified obstacle is addressed in working sessions that are conducted outside of the daily stand-up (with the caveat that you’ll occasionally encounter an obstacle that may not require a working session and can be resolved by an individual who takes on that responsibility during the daily stand-up meeting).  This “working session” is as elaborate as is need to resolve the obstacle: it might be a simple as two people having a brief conversation or as involved as a whole-team session lasting many hours.
  • Are our meetings starting and completing on-time?  If you are having problems starting on time or with the total duration of your daily stand-up, your underlying problem might be local (certain individuals don’t understand or support the precepts of the daily stand-up) or more global (you may be at odds with the organization’s pervasive meeting culture that doesn’t acknowledge the importance of arriving on time to meetings or completing at the appointed time).  Any global problems are best addressed by establishing a project norm to which all team members agree and will support.  Local problems are very situational and thus the most effective response (which might involve training or discussion aimed at securing voluntary support) is entirely dependent upon that situation.

 

Poor Execution of the Daily Stand-Up Meeting

This section is a brief glance at commonly encountered problems you may face in your daily stand-up meeting.  Some of these describe symptoms of a team that is having difficulty breaking their ingrained patterns of reporting progress (e.g., a team member presents their “three questions” to a “leader” and not to the whole team) while other  problems are the result of poor discipline in respecting the agenda of a meeting (e.g., storytelling, taking excessive time problem solving). 

 

Use the information in this section to help identify issues with your daily stand-up meeting and plan your own response to the situation.  In Scrum the ScrumMaster has the explicitly assigned responsibility of training team members in the process and enforcing that process.  If your team is not using Scrum, then ownership for those responsibilities will need to be clearly identified.

 

Observed Behavior First Response
“Everything is an obstacle.”  You’ve created a forum for people to identify obstacles, and a team member takes full advantage by repeatedly reporting a superfluity of problems.

Outside the meeting, investigate the details.  If the obstacles are real, then recognize that the current plan or assignment of responsibilities may need adjustment.  If the majority of the “obstacles” turn out to be imagined (and, thus, are “noise” that masks the true progress report), then agree on an approach of self-screening potential obstacles prior to raising them during the daily stand-up meeting.

Persistent low attendance or late arrivals.


Understand why the team is not supporting the daily stand-up and address that root cause.  It could be a trivial as adjusting the time at which the meeting is conducted.

Rambling presentations, perhaps with lots of data but no meaningful information.  You leave the meeting and still don’t have any idea if the project is on track to achieve the goal; as well, you don’t know if the work you are doing is properly aligned with the work of other team members.


Some people can give a brilliant impromptu walkthrough of the three questions, while others will need to compose their thoughts prior to the meeting - recognize which best describes you and make appropriate preparations prior to the meeting. 

Ensure that the planning information (e.g., burn down chart) is visible for reference during the meeting. Adopt a practice that each team member explicitly point to their work as it appears on the planning information.


Team members frequently present to a project leader (e.g., ScrumMaster, project manager) and not to the team.
  This deemphasizes the objective of the meeting as an opportunity for synchronization across the team (and not just a status report to a project manager) and may well allow team members to passively ignore the presentations.

If you are the ScrumMaster, ensure a mechanism is in place for letting the meeting start and continue without you saying a single word.  You are not present to ask the three questions, nor is your role to interrogate and probe for status information.  Let the team members own the responsibility for synchronizing their respective work tasks.


Diverging from the agenda (e.g. , problem solving, probing into problems, irrelevant topics), taking time that should be spent on synchronizing.
  It’s almost second nature for us to want to build our understanding of a problem and then give suggestions – we need this to happen, but not in the stand-up meeting.
These are the topics for follow-up working sessions.  Curtail any time (in the stand-up meeting) consumed by these activities – one technique is to point out the need for a follow-up working session and take the responsibility for scheduling that session (If you think you can set a time/location without much discussion, then you may want to do this as a close to the discussion taking place in the stand-up meeting; however, if this can’t be quickly set then don’t waste another three minutes discussing “when can we all meet to resolve this issue.