12 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Daily Stand-Up

Call it what you will, the daily stand-up, daily scrum or daily huddle is becoming commonplace across businesses as a way for teams to touch base and get up-to-speed with what’s going on.

So, how do you get the most out of this key meeting? Here’s 12 pointers for making your daily stand-ups more effective, efficient, and fun…

1. Make Them a Habit

Consistency is key. It’s crucial to develop a routine for your stand-up meetings. Yes, in the real-world scheduling is a nightmare! But try as much as possible to hold the meet at the same time AND in the same place each day. Without a routine, procrastination will take effect and the meetings will never happen!

Try to fit your scheduling around your team and avoid disrupting valuable work time as much as possible. If your team gets into the office early, then hold your stand-up first thing in the morning so everyone has a clear idea of what the day holds. If they tend to arrive at staggered times, then try holding them in the middle of the day when everyone is there.

2. Keep to Time

Always start the daily stand-up at a set time and don’t wait for stragglers. Those who miss the start, or not make it altogether, will feel guilty and try harder to make the next one.

If your team’s spread out and connecting remotely, make sure they don’t slow everyone else down. Choose a video-conferencing solution that’s easy to use, reliable and good quality. Nothing drains momentum and energy more than conference calls with inaudible or distorted sound and glitchy images. Also use a dedicated URL so people can click to join rather than having to punch in access codes every time. 

Keep stand-ups short – no more than 15 minutes max. Use a timer such as an alarm clock or app that everyone can see.

If you’re struggling to keep everything within 15 minutes, it may be that the meeting has too many members.  Think about how much time it gives each person to update, plus the transitions between speakers. Ideally, limit to no more than 10 people, with 5 to 7 the ideal. A smaller group keeps communication easy and fosters camaraderie and shared ownership.

Realistically, you can’t just tell people not to attend, so you might need to think about team size and structure overall to make them more effective. For larger groups or projects try to break the work down and create multiple teams. Each team would have its own daily stand-up and then send a representative to a secondary meeting at which the work of all the teams is coordinated.

Every stand-up needs a leader to facilitate the discussion by balancing time-awareness and flexibility. The leader can be rotated across the team or be designated to maintain consistency.

3. Actually Stand-Up!

Physically standing up creates energy and helps people to stay focused and engaged. The act of getting up sends blood and oxygen throughout the body, activating chemicals that enhance our brains and our mood.

Standing also ensures that the meeting is kept short as people prefer not to be on their feet for long.

Stand Up In Meetings

People will sit down if there are chairs or tables nearby, often without realising it, so hold the meeting in an open space or in a room without chairs. If that’s not an option, just push them all to one side.

If your meeting involves remote team members, there’s no reason why you can’t still insist that they stand-up as well!

Also, having people stand close to each other helps everyone hear what’s being said. By allowing for a more relaxed speaking volume – as opposed to shouting across the room to be heard – participants become more attentive. Some people naturally don’t speak loudly, so closer proximity creates for more inclusivity. It also builds trust within the team, although there are barriers and it’s important to still respect each other’s personal space. There is a point where people are just standing too close for comfort so watch if individuals are tense or fidgety.

4. Get Rid of Distractions

We’ve now been conditioned to be able bring our devices into meetings. For daily stand-ups though, it’s important to ban any laptops, phones or tablets etc., to get rid of distractions. If we have these with us, we’re constantly wanting to check them or even go off and do something else rather than pay full attention to what’s being said.

5. The 3 Question Agenda

Have a simple 3 question agenda that each team member must be ready and prepared to talk to:

  • What did you accomplish since the last meeting?
  • What are you working on until the next meeting?
  • What's getting in your way or impeding your progress?

This tells the team exactly what’s being done and flags any issues that need to be addressed. For brevity, focus on a 48-hour window of work – yesterday and today – so the answers will be naturally brief. Longer-term issues should be discussed in separate planning meetings.

It’s crucial for daily stand-ups to be effective that there’s psychological safety within the team so members feel secure and able to share issues. The process of listing problems or hurdles is key so that the team know where and how to help out. Even the smallest problems should be highlighted and addressed so they don’t turn into big problems.

6. Don’t Add Items or New Ideas

This isn’t a planning meeting so don’t start adding items to the agenda. This will only divert attention away from the immediate concerns around what’s happening and what needs to be addressed. Issues outside of the 3 questions should be raised in separate team sessions where new ideas and initiatives can be introduced and discussed at length.

7. Keep on Point

Answers to the 3 questions should always be kept brief and to the point. Often, people may be tempted to go off on different topics while they have the group’s ears, but don’t let them ramble on. The leader needs to cut in whenever they notice that the meeting is heading off-course.

Daily stand-ups are designed to address a limited number of topics, but individuals should not be punished if discussion strays and creative ideas begin to form. If something comes up in the course of the stand-up that can’t be resolved quickly, people should be encouraged to take it offline for discussion after the meeting amongst those directly involved in that issue. One trick is to create a ‘Sidebar’ or ‘Parking Lot’ list for these items to ensure that they’re captured and not forgotten.

Asking people to stop talking can be awkward so if necessary, apply a strict time limit for each speaker. I’d suggest starting with one minute and making adjustments until you find the right amount of time for your team. Use your timer to alert people when their time is up. Whilst you might get pushback from people who feel rushed, this approach enables everyone to have their say and keeps longwinded talkers in check.

Another idea to keep people on point is the two hand rule: if anyone thinks the meeting is going off topic they raise a hand, once a second person raises their hand as well then the conversation stops and the stand-up goes back to its normal flow.

8. Make Them Collaborative

One of the most common criticisms of daily stand-up meetings is that they just become turn-based 1:1 reporting to the team leader…” I did this…I’ll do that,”  then on to the next person. This completely defeats the purpose of having a stand-up and should be avoided at all costs. If team members feel they are on display or being evaluated, they’ll be less inclined to be honest about challenges and obstacles.

Stand-ups represent valuable time when the whole team should be sharing status, issues and ideas together. It’s critical to instil in team members the need to ensure what they’re saying is valuable to everyone present.

9. Add Variety

The goal of a daily stand-up is to leave employees more alert and prepared for work than before. One of the big traps of having daily stand-ups is that they become TOO routine driven and thereby monotonous and “boring”.

It’s good to mix them up a bit and add some variety when consistency becomes a drag (without contradicting my initial point).

One way to do this is change the way that you rotate the speaker. Alternate between going around the circle clockwise or counter-clockwise. Try passing an object between members to signify the speaker, for example toss a ball from one person to another. Other ways is to have people go in the order that they arrived or to draw names from a hat.

10. Inject Some Fun!

Stand-ups aren’t meant to be officious and all about process. Have some fun!

Why not start the meeting on a lighter note and get the energy up by playing a particular tune, for example…

The Prodigy – Stand Up
Bob Marley & The Wailers ­– Get Up, Stand Up
Ben E. King – Stand By Me

And then to finish:

Elton John – I’m Still Standing
James – Sit Down

…OK, you get the gist!

Start each daily stand-up with a joke or motivational quote (not too cheesy mind!). If you’re using a screen or projector to show a task board, add an image beforehand with a meme or comic. You can use a different image each time to keep up the intrigue…be careful though not to spark too much off topic conversation!

Give out prizes such as a Starbucks gift card or some swag for the best update or idea. Or maybe have a secret word that if someone mentions they win!

Just come up with different things to keep it fresh!

11. Make Things Visual

The discipline of holding a daily stand-up can be significantly amplified by using a task board to capture and, importantly, visualise your team’s work. This can be in the form of either a physical whiteboard and sticky-notes, or using a software tool such as Trello, Workfront, Aha! or CoSchedule (there are many others out there!). Using an online tool is especially relevant where the team is distributed across multiple locations.

Task boards help you see what needs to be done, what’s in progress, where tasks are in the process, and what’s already been completed. In this respect, you can see what’s taking longer than expected and then have the conversations to understand why and what can be done to address.

Standup with Tasks Board

When you’re running a stand-up using a board, a task-based format for discussion might be more effective than the individual round-robin. Here, you progress along the board starting with the items on the right (closest to the finish) and top (highest priority). People speak when items they own are discussed.

Getting everyone to review and update the task board BEFORE the meeting is important and results in a big efficiency boost.

12. Keep the Communication Flowing

The daily stand-up should NOT be the sole means of team communication. It’s easy for people to wait around for the next meeting to bring up an issue, but this both slows down the team and bloats out the next stand-up. Don’t abandon broader team communication in favour of the daily stand-up, keep the communication flowing at all times.

If you’re just starting out with stand-ups, expect some trial and error to begin with. Experiment with things to see what works for you: try different meeting times, locations, discussion methods, and so forth until you find your sweet spot. Use the format that works best for the team and then try to be consistent going forward.

Have you found any other tips or tricks for making your stand-ups more effective? If so, please share them in the comments.