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How do you run effective standup meetings?

When it comes to Agile standups, throw out the rulebook. Effective standup meetings result from flexibility, not rigidity. Follow these five guidelines to get more engagement.

Simple, straightforward and succinct -- these words describe effective standup meetings for Agile teams. Otherwise, team members might ignore their colleagues, tune out or skip the meeting altogether.

The Agile standup meeting, also called the daily Scrum, is a brief, focused team discussion of issues that impede members' assigned tasks. Effective standup meetings take into account the whole team's time and needs. While Agile standup best practices are a great place to start, there's more than one way to run effective standup meetings. When in doubt, adjust according to team needs.

Many times, the Agile leader gets stuck in a boring pattern with meetings. Agile standups can diverge from their intended goal and become long and listless. Team members lose energy when the standup isn't compelling, especially if the meeting goes off point.

How can you tell if the team dreads the Agile standup? If members are routinely late or absent, it's a sign they don't value the standup meeting. People might attend, but be disengaged -- half-listening and uninterested. Disengaged team members will often start unrelated or simultaneous conversations as they clutch their coffee cups. And, while these folks do chime in when called upon, they'd likely still rather be working.

Let's face it, it's easy for the Agile standup meeting to become a grind. Software development teams work best when all parties value and respect their time. But all is not lost. Let's discuss how to run an effective standup meeting -- in five easy steps.

1. Keep it short

IT professionals thrive on short, effective standup meetings that don't interrupt their productivity. Keep the meeting to 10 minutes or less. Stick to the subject: What tasks are you working on and what issues do you need help with?

If further discussion is needed, meet with team members after the Agile standup. Don't hold the whole team hostage while you discuss your unique challenges. Talk about those issues with only the relevant team members or schedule a meeting for later in the day.

2. Don't force daily meetings

Many Agile teams hold their standups daily, but they don't have to. How often to run an Agile standup meeting is a big part of how to do it well. Define an Agile meeting schedule according to what works best for the team.

If a daily Scrum wastes the team's time, change the meeting frequency. Perhaps two or three Agile standups per week will prove more efficient. Less time spent in meetings means less interruption to each team member's workday.

Brush up on Agile meeting types

Sprint planning meeting. In this Agile meeting, the development team and product owner discuss what tasks the team will complete during a sprint. These parties determine the amount of work that's realistic and the benchmarks for completion.

Sprint review. An informal meeting, perhaps with attendees from across the organization. Sprint reviews come after the development team completes a sprint. It should include a review of all the tasks done in the sprint, discussion of the product backlog and questions or feedback from attendees.

Agile retrospective. A structured meeting only for the Agile team held after an iteration is complete. In this meeting, the Agile team reflects on what they did well, what they could do better and improvements they might make in future iterations.

Product backlog grooming. This meeting helps teams refine or groom the backlog, which contains items a team must finish to release the software. In this meeting, the team prioritizes, removes, adds and fixes backlog items.

3. Don't interrupt ongoing work

The typical standup happens early in the morning -- often it's the first item on the calendar. However, a morning meeting might disrupt, rather than help, some developers.

Check with each team member to determine a specific time that works best for the whole group. For example, move the standup meeting to right before or right after a typical break time. You can hold an Agile standup meeting at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m., or even toward the end of the workday. Experiment with different times and see which ones result in effective Agile standup meetings.

4. Mix it up

If tight deadlines are a struggle, the Agile team likely already thinks it has too many meetings. To give the team some time back on its schedule, skip the part where everyone gives an update. Ask only about problematic stories or tasks, and then end the meeting. Perhaps you only cover the issues or questions that are blocking work. If there are none, end the standup there. If any team members need input, limit the discussion and meet later if you need more details.

Also, never underestimate the power of free food. All software teams respond to bagels, donuts, pizza or some other type of treat -- just be mindful of dietary restrictions so that you don't leave anyone out.

5. Be on time

How can you run a standup meeting if you're not there?

The Agile standup leader must be on time and ready for discussion. Nothing kills team energy more than a leader who's consistently late, unorganized or unprepared. Respect your team's time and productivity. If you can't be there, cancel the meeting as early as possible or find a good replacement. Emergencies happen, but otherwise, don't waste people's time.  

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