Standups and communication

Communication is the first core value of XP. So how does your team communicate with each other? How well do you do it?

One way that our development teams communicate is via daily standup meetings. But what is a standup meeting, anyway? How about this definition: a self-organizing daily gathering to gain shared understanding of the state of our team, focus our day and remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. As one comment on Ward Cunningham’s wiki puts it, “Our aim is modest: to identify short-term obstacles. The agenda is minimalist: What does the day look like?” Some teams eschew standups because they’re not helpful; perhaps understanding the objectives can help you reshape your standup. How do you know if your standup meetings are effective? Here are some possible outcomes:

  • Everyone knows what he or she is going to do — and with whom — as soon as the standup ends (rather than finding a pair partner or figuring out what to do after the meeting ends).
  • Everyone understands where the team is on all the stories — if an outsider were to ask you about any story, you could answer (rather than merely “the story I’m working on”).
  • Everyone knows high-level problems facing the team for the day (rather than not knowing).
  • Everyone has a sense of how complete the iteration is, and what needs to be done to “make it” (rather than being surprised on the last day).
  • The team has decided to have breakout meetings to resolve specific problems (rather than try to solve bigger problems in the standup).
  • Everyone knows what the team is pledging to accomplish for the day (rather than being unfocused).

If you’re not accomplishing these, check out the standups article on Martin Fowler’s site, which provides useful patterns and identifies “smells” for standups. Now for some best practices that we’ve seen around Asynchrony:

  • Prompt start: The way a team starts its standup is indicative of the way the day will go; when everyone arrives on-time (or, heaven forbid, a minute early!) the meeting tends to have a snappier pace. Use a fun disincentive to cut down on lateness (e.g., tardy MFKR team members having to wear a PPE jumpsuit).
  • Story-based: Rather than focusing on individual check-ins, the team talks about its progress in terms of stories. Facing the story posters on the board, the team talks about the unfinished stories in order of priority and how to complete them. The team can set a goal by determining which stories it will attempt to finish that day.
  • Know what’s next: Before the standup meeting is over, know who your pair partner is (consult the pairing chart for help) and what task you’re going to work on, and go to it.
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