Agile coaching

Are your stand-ups a waste of time? Here's how you can improve them.

16 November 2021 • 4 min read

Are your stand-ups a waste of time_ Heres how you can improve them. (1)

Your organisation is Agile. You’re using Scrum. You’re releasing software and delighting customers. So all good, right? But has your Scrum implementation weathered the pandemic and stood up to the challenges of remote working? Is it as efficient as it could be?

Before you answer, reflect on your stand-ups and consider how many of the following apply to them:

  • They last a long time, sometimes 30 minutes plus.
  • People who are not part of the team committed to delivering the outcomes attend out of curiosity.
  • Attendees give updates even if they do not have any tickets on the board.
  • Everyone wants to have their say, and some want to provide updates for tickets they are not even working on.
  • Senior management attend just to remind everyone about dates and scope.
  • The level of engagement is low: people are answering/sending email/Slack/Teams messages, not paying attention to updates, and generally lacking focus
  • They turn into a discussion and sometimes a rant.
  • People use them as an opportunity to catch up.
  • The team asks for clarification on priorities.
  • People talk about release activities every day.

Sounds familiar? If you can relate to one or more of the above, then read on. I have some suggestions that will really help get your stand-ups back on track, improving their effectiveness while reducing their duration. Here are seven things to try:

7 ways to improve your stand-up


Walk through the board


This will ensure that team members who are actively working on tickets are the ones giving updates. After all, the tickets in progress are the ones that should be contributing towards your sprint goals. Walking the board from right to left is really useful in showing how close tickets are to completion. Varying the direction in which you walk the board will make stand-ups less predictable for attendees.


Add a filter for each developer to show their ticket assignments


This is a great way to zoom in on a particular update. During the stand-up, toggle through the filters, one by one, to show which tickets are assigned to a particular developer. Only those developers with tickets in flight will be expected to give an update. As an aside, this will highlight if anyone does not have a ticket to work on - something to follow up on after the stand-up. It also shows whether team members are taking on too much work. More on that in a moment...


Limit the work in progress


This will help flag when developers are picking up too much work. The length of updates for an individual is directly proportional to the work in progress for that individual. In other words, more WIP, more chat. You may be thinking “why shouldn’t developers work on multiple tickets simultaneously?” Well, it can be inefficient, potentially skews your metrics on what is possible during a sprint, may jeopardise your sprint goals, creates silos and prolongs the duration of stand-ups.


You could start by setting the WIP limit for in progress tickets to be at most the number of developers in the team. WIP limits are not part of Scrum, but do try them out.


Add filters to map goals to tickets


This is an easy way to show how the tickets contributing towards each goal are progressing. It will help the team, as well as others looking in.


Keep your board up to date


If people can self-serve to see how the sprint is going, they are less likely to feel the need to attend stand-ups. So you should see your attendance list of non-essential participants drop. But this will only happen if the board reflects reality. Team members sometimes forget to update the board. So remind the team to apply their updates before the standup and provide context for any tickets they block.


Talk about releases, goals and the roadmap at the beginning of the week


These discussions are important, and so warrant dedicated time outside of the stand-up. You could set up a 15 minute session immediately after the stand-up on Mondays (or Tuesdays if it’s a public holiday) to talk about any upcoming releases, changes in priorities, running through the road map, and celebrating team successes.


If your Product Owner has data to show that a release has made an improvement, shout about it. Your team will love to hear how their work has made a difference to customers.


Make time for the team


It’s really important for the team to reconnect and catch up. Set aside dedicated time where people can chat, play games, talk about non-work stuff and have some fun. After all, work should be fun and enjoyable and your team is key to delivery success. Team decompression time is essential.


With a few changes you can use your board to drive your stand-ups, making them more efficient and, more importantly, more effective. With targeted communication events you can bring greater focus to stand-ups and ensure updates are accurate and up-to-date to allow people to self-serve for the information they require, reducing the need to attend stand-ups in person.

Are you ready to make these changes? Be brave, and start rolling them out incrementally. Keep your team informed on what you are doing and why, and encourage them to provide feedback. If the suggestions above have helped, or inspired ideas of your own, I’d love to hear from you.


Paul Boca is a Principal Consultant at AND Digital.

Agile coaching

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