[Video] Daily Scrum Stand-up Meeting: A Real-Life Example

At MindFire, we’ve been using a daily stand-up meeting for our multi-channel marketing automation platform.  We’ve also applied it in other areas, including our Leadership Team, which does its stand-up at 11:00 AM.

Here’s how we run the engineering stand-up meeting:

1) We start promptly at 9:00 AM.  We experimented with having the meeting at 4:00 PM, but meeting towards the start of the day seemed to work better.  I personally enjoy the buzz from getting everyone together in the morning, hearing the prior day’s activities, and charting the day’s course.

As I walk into the meeting, I make it a point to greet everyone, shake hands (or a quick fist-bump), and look everyone in the eye and smile.  I don’t always succeed at this, but I like to try and give everyone a good start to the day.  I feel it makes a difference.

2) We time-box the meeting to 12 minutes.  We use an iPhone timer to keep us honest.  These days, we usually finish with about a minute to spare.  We used to get lazy and go for 20 or 30 minutes, but now that we stand up and use a timer, we’re good.  I check the timer from time-to-time during the meeting and sometimes call out the number of minutes remaining.  Even though each person only has a few minutes, you’ll notice that it doesn’t seemed rushed; everyone has plenty of time.

3) We go in the same order each day, cycling through 7 people.  The people involved are:

  • The Product Owner (me).  I report on both my product-related tasks, as well as whatever I’m working on with the Leadership Team or any other part of our company.  If someone listens carefully, they can get a pretty good sense for what’s going on elsewhere in the company.
  • Our QA lead, who also is involved with our Professional Services.  He goes first, and you’ll hear him mentioning working from home the prior day.  We do this from time-to-time to improve focus.
  • Our senior architect and 3 engineers, each of whom are responsible for a different sub-system.
  • A member of our Support Team, responsible for communicating Clients issues, escalated cases, and any other meaningful data (we use SalesForce.com to track all cases).  We added this person to our daily stand-up just recently, and we’ve already seen it pay dividends.

Even though we go in the same order each day (and it is written on the board!), I often forget.  Senior moment!

4) We stay fairly disciplined.  If something comes up during the meeting that requires additional discussion, we’re disciplined about putting it in the “parking lot” and discussing it later.  I have to resist asking a lot of questions; you’ll see me ask a few quick ones, but I try to keep us focused and moving forward.  If anyone is blocked, it’s my job to make sure that I do what I can to move them forward.  You’ll hear me ask about blocks after some of the updates.

5) We update the Sprint board.  We usually start updating User Story status (as a percentage towards completion) a few days into the Sprint, once we’ve started making progress.  We recently changed what we display on the board, and it seems to have made an improvement.  We can cover that in another post.

The meeting runs well if everyone is prepared (which is most often the case). Some come prepared with a summary of what they worked on, others seem to have great memories and can recite their work without notes. Personally, I write everything down in a Google Doc, and just reference this document during the meeting; otherwise, I’d never remember anything — maybe I’m getting old!

Here’s the video from one of our recent Scrum meetings; excuse the brief interruption around 1:45.  Enjoy!

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Things You Wish You Could Say At Work

The other day I heard one of our engineers say that he had to take vacation before the end of the year.  It seemed he actually wanted to work, but that he had to use the vacation — or he’d lose it.

Wait a sec.  Here’s a guy who wants to work, but for whom our “use it or lose it” policy is back-firing.  (Of course, he could still take time off and work anyway [I won’t get into that here], and that’s not the point.)

But before I get to my point: I am a big believer in taking time off.  In my earlier days, I had a very hard time pulling myself away.  I went through what felt like extreme emotional duress, worrying about this, that, and the other thing.  I couldn’t sleep, focus, or be present with the people around me.

I was somewhere else and nowhere at all.  Maybe you know the feeling.

But over the years, something strange happened.  I started learning how to unwind, and began forcing myself to disconnect.  And in doing so, I didn’t become lazy (one of my fears), or miss out on something (another fear).  Instead, my thinking was enriched, my soul refreshed, and my body renewed.  Vacation and time away is a wonderful thing and can actually improve your results.  I encourage everyone around me to do it and feel good about it.

So here’s the point — something I wish we could say at work: Why do we even have a vacation policy at all?

I wish we (and other companies) had the guts to implement a policy like this:

  • Official Policy: Be Reasonable And Use Your Head.  That’s it.
  • What does that mean?  It means we don’t track vacation or sick days.  Take as little or as many as you need to feel creative and productive.
  • This doesn’t mean people take time off without getting their job done.  Instead, it means that we track their results  – and people make sure their work gets done.  They’re adults.

I’ve thrown this idea out to people, and I usually get the same question: “Dave, you’re smoking something.  What do we do if someone abuses this policy?

I think that’s easy: We’d let them know they aren’t meeting our “be reasonable and use your head” policy, and we’d say “bye-bye” if it doesn’t improve.  They wouldn’t fit in and I fully expect their peers would call them out.   I realize there are legal implications that would have to be worked out (especially here in CA), but I feel that (maybe?) the right people would be attracted by a policy like this.

Your turn: What do you think of doing away with vacation policies?  What are some things you wish you could say at work, but don’t have the guts to utter?

Three GoToMeeting Productivity Hacks

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting

We’ve used GoToMeeting’s line of products for years to host ad-hoc meetings, training sessions, and webinars.  We’ve also recently started using Join.Me, which some team members have reported is working well for them — more on that later.

Here are three GoToMeeting hacks that we’ve found increase productivity:

  • Set up a recurring meeting that never expires, and reuse it over and over.  It’s relatively easy to launch a new meeting every time you need to meet with someone, but I’ve found it is even easier to use the same meeting ID and phone # whenever possible.  I’ve been using the same meeting ID for about 2 years, and now nearly everyone in the company has it memorized — as do a number of Clients.  It’s very easy to say, “Hey, meet me in the usual place in 3 minutes!”  It probably saves 5-10 minutes in back-and-forth creating a meeting, reading the meeting ID to someone, etc.
  • Let them see your face — and take a look at theirs!  We’ve found that it is incredibly useful to turn on video.  We’ve found that it helps strengthen the communication, as body language and facial expressions can add tremendous depth to an interaction.  I’ve seen another software company report a 40% increase in sales conversions, directly correlated to the simple act of their sales team turning on their webcams.  You may find people in your organization hesitant to do this, but little by little I believe this will become the norm as opposed to the exception.  I’d love to experiment with using this on our Support Team, and measure how the quality of service is impacted by allowing folks to see us.
  • Record your meetings and share them with others.  GoToMeeting makes it very easy to record your meetings, and by doing so, provides you a great way to share information with others in your company.  In addition, I’ve found that I learn a great deal by re-listening to my meetings.  Why?  In many cases, I miss a possible meaning, opportunity, or issue during the real-time exchange.  Upon reflection and in a setting where I don’t have to think about what’s coming next, I’m able to absorb more deeply.   

What GoToMeeting productivity hacks have you discovered?  Do you use your webcam during meetings?  If not, what keeps you from doing it?

Success Factors No One Talks About: How The # of Yucky Convos You’re Willing to Have Is Strangely Correlated w/Your Success

In order to move forward, whether it be your organization, your project team, or even a personal relationship, I’ve found that it takes leaning into uncomfortable, yucky conversations to really take steps forward.

You know the types of conversations I’m talking about, right? The ones you dread. The ones that keep you up at night. The ones you’d rather fast-forward through and not have to live through in real-time. But what I have found time and time again, is that when we’re willing to lean into those uncomfortable conversations … we end up obtaining real progress.

And when we realize that forcing ourselves through these conversations is directly correlated with our success, great things can happen.

Progress that changes the quality of our life. Progress that improves the ability you have to get things done, like make better software, strengthen your relationship with a business partner, or improve your marriage. The alternative is ugly. Not having these conversations can make you miserable, as they can suck up enormous amounts of brain energy if left unaddressed. Not to mention the stories we create in our minds about the other person and their motives!

Here’s what I’ve found helpful in getting myself geared up for (and having) these types of conversations:

  • Have talking points.  Write them down, think about their order, and if you’re disciplined, use some mental imagery to imagine yourself delivering them.  Work through the most extreme and uncomfortable situations in your head.  The act of playing scenarios out in your head in advance can do amazing things.
  • During the conversation, have an outlet for that nervous, yucky energy.  Have you felt this?  Sometimes during a meeting it’s just plain awkward.  I’ve found that it is good to have a release of this tension, but it’s usually not socially appropriate to punch a wall.  Instead, here’s a tip: curl your toes tightly in your shoe.  No one can see you do it, but I’ve found that it helps release that energy.  You look calm on the surface, but inside that shoe it’s another story!
  • Put your conversation in perspective.  For example, talking to that team member about how they’re not meeting your expectations — is it really that bad?  Sometimes I’ll imagine a much more difficult scenario.  What if I were a doctor, having to tell a mother that her child has passed?  In view of that type of conversation, my fears will sometimes subside.

What about you: have you noticed that when you’re willing to have uncomfortable conversations, you actually move forward?  Have you noticed that people who seem to make stuff happen are the ones who don’t seem to mind having yucky conversations?

(Or maybe they do mind, but are just curling their toes!)

How We Use Daily Stand-ups To Improve Communication

On a drive back from Fresno, my friend and fellow Mika board member, Jeff Tanner, described how he implemented Patrick Lencioni’s method for daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly sessions to align his leadership team.

I’m fascinated by organizational methods for improving performance, and so I listened intently as he described the process.  I couldn’t wait to visit our local Barnes and Noble to read Lencioni’s books (they’re short, written like short stories).  You’ve probably seem them numerous times in the business section of your bookstore.

At MindFire, we’ve been using daily stand-ups as a core part of our engineering culture for about two years (watch an example here).  It is by far one of my favorite times of the work day, as it gives me the opportunity to hear (in a succinct fashion) what everyone accomplished the prior day, and what they intend to do that day.  Everyone gives Twitter-like bursts of information in the following format:

  • What they accomplished the prior day (not a lot of details, just the bullet-point summary)
  • What they intended to accomplish that day
  • Whether they have any “blocks”, i.e., impediments in the way of achieving their stated objectives

We’ve found that it is helpful to stand up (keeps everyone brief and avoids verbal diarrhea), and set a timer for 12 minutes.  We start promptly at 9:00 AM, and if you’re late, we require one push-up for everyone minute past 9.  Keeps things lively!

At the end of the session, everyone is aware of what their teammates are working on, and we’re able to make quick course adjustments based on the day’s activities.

Have you implemented daily stand-ups in your organization?  If so, have they helped your organization?  If not, what keeps you from trying?

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