How to do a stand up in the context of remote work

How to do a stand up in the context of remote work

Before we start talking about the best way of doing a remote stand up, it’s probably worth explaining what a stand up is and why we use them. Depending on your organization, you might call your stand up a variety of different names, including a daily scrum, huddle, or touchpoint. Regardless of its name, the function is the same.

What is the daily stand up?

Daily stand-ups are a standard tool used in Agile software development teams. But, its uses and benefits aren’t restricted to just those organizations. Think of the stand up as a short operational meeting that keeps the team informed and connected.

Normally the developers, product owners, and the scrum master are all present for the daily stand-up or scrum. To stay as focused and efficient as possible, the meeting will usually revolve around some main questions:

  • What work was done yesterday?
  • What work is scheduled for today?
  • What are the blockers I need to clear?

Daily stand-ups help improve communication within a team, but perhaps most importantly, they help identify bottlenecks and issues that could cause a project deliverable to be missed. By keeping the development team up-to-date with all of the moving pieces, they are better able to identify problems and make decisions.

At this point, you might be wondering why is it called a “stand up?” Well, simply put, the meeting is conducted standing up! The stand-up meeting should be held at the beginning of the day and only needs to last 15 minutes. By keeping everyone standing and keeping the meeting short, the risk of timewasting is dramatically cut.

Understanding dependencies

A stand up works exceptionally well when project dependencies are easily identifiable. One of the best methods of accomplishing this goal is using a shared workspace like a wallboard or task board with different colored post-it notes or Cacoo, if conducting the meeting remotely. By making and using visual tools, everyone in the team is able to focus on a specific issue and understand how it fits into the bigger picture of the workflow.

Using this strategy, individuals responsible for a specific task are able to discuss details of that task moving the item forward. If specific roadblocks are identified, the team as a whole can suggest solutions with discussions that require more detail and analysis being held offline.

By doing this every day, issues and obstacles are quickly identified and resolved; new ideas are tabled for future inclusion, and the team in its entirety understands the overall status of the work being done.

The impact of remote work on stand up

The benefits of stand-ups are manyfold. They help align the team on the goals and objectives, ensuring that everyone is working in a coordinated manner. In addition, it is an opportunity for members to share problems and ideas for improvement and, perhaps most importantly, bond as a team.

However, working remotely impacts many of these areas. When working with task boards, for example, it is difficult to move the post-it notes from the To-Do board to the Doing or Done board when you cannot physically interact with them. Added to this is the psychological disconnection team members face when disconnected from their colleagues and peers.

Finally, with remote work, team members are unable to evaluate body language. Body language is a critical factor in understanding and evaluating problems and negative feelings.

The Remote Stand Up

Fortunately, the idea of the stand up does not have to fall by the wayside simply due to a lack of proximity. There are digital tools available that can help keep teams closer and projects on track. The added benefit is that many of these tools are free or are available at a nominal cost, so using them will not break the bank.

Video Conferencing Software

With a stand up, there is an opportunity to see individual employees face-to-face and obtain an understanding through their body language of how they are feeling about a specific project phase. There are many tools today that provide similar capabilities through the wonders of technology.

Some of the most popular video conferencing solutions currently available include Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting, but there are many other providers out there. It is important to ensure that the tool you select is reliable and provides you with the ability to share your screen.

Kanban Boards and Virtual Scrum Boards

The task board is not a new concept. The Kanban system was discussed in 2010 by David Anderson as a way of managing and improving work. Virtual Kanban boards can help make the scrum more effective as it helps to make ideas more visual and are perfect for stand-ups.

Backlog offers Kanban-style Boards to help your project manager and team easily stay on track with every project. These virtual tools help provide a very familiar interface and even offer automation capabilities that are not available to their real-world counterparts.

Communication

Of course, one of the requirements from a daily stand up is communication between colleagues. While the stand up is an excellent place to discuss specific issues and problems, teammates need a way of communicating in different ways, also where the video is not always needed.

Nulab offers a chat system called Typetalk to complement its suite offering. Download it for your team for free.

Conducting virtual stand-ups

Tools are only part of the puzzle, though. Ensuring that you maintain a regular schedule for your daily stand-ups is just as important. By keeping these short meetings at the same time daily, staff and teams continue to stay connected and in touch.

Meeting virtually is different from meeting in person though, so there are some simple rules that you should adhere to to ensure the stand up is a success.

Maintain and use the same structure

Continue to use the same task board or Kanban-style Boards that your team is used to. If possible, color code tasks to highlight dependencies or owners. While virtual boards do provide you with the capabilities of creating many more sub-boards, try to keep it simple and focused on:

  • To do
  • Doing
  • Done

By using the new, virtual Kanban-style Boards in Backlog, it is extremely simple to drag and drop cards between boards. The addition of labels and owners plus automation can help further extend its capabilities.

Designate a leader

If your organization does not have a scrum master or someone in an equivalent role, it is important to look at designating a meeting lead. This individual is responsible for keeping the stand-up on track and focused. This responsibility can be rotated amongst the team if necessary.

A good habit to get into for updates is to have your speakers or leads speak in a designated order. By knowing who speaks and when it becomes clear to everyone who is up next and who needs to prepare.

This habit is something to retain when you have some people back in the office and others remote. Many remote staff members feel disconnected and unheard in comparison to in-office staff, so giving them a chance to speak when everyone else needs to listen is important.

Stay on target

In-person or virtually, stand-ups can easily be derailed by topics and conversations that are not related to updates being provided. This is where the lead needs to step in and have the members “take it offline” for further elaboration.

Understand time zones

A key issue for many globally distributed teams is timing. While starting a meeting at 9 a.m. normally makes sense, for companies with staff all over the world, that means someone is waking up early or someone is leaving the dinner table. Either option is unacceptable.

Time zones matter, so plan meetings based on when your team is available to ensure that they are able to attend, ideally by creating a schedule with the greatest overlap during the business day. While there might at times be some inconvenience to individuals, this should be minimized where possible.

If some team members cannot attend due to time zone challenges, encourage them to provide a written standup report in your favorite chat tool later.

Meet consistently

This is perhaps just as important as everything that has already been mentioned. The benefits of a stand up quickly get lost when teams lose focus and momentum. It is critical that your stand-up starts at the same time every day without an excuse, and that they are attended by everyone in the team. In addition, they need to stay short and to the point. Consider small groups of seven or less speaking for 15 minutes at the most.

A key point to realize is that whatever the future may bring, the concept of remote work will not go away. Millions of employees already work remotely, and that number is only set to increase in the coming years.

“Scrum of scrums”

The stand-up and scrum are excellent tools to keep internal teams aligned. While scrums are generally smaller in focus, the ‘Scrum of Scrums’ is a means of pulling larger groups together. Here larger teams are subdivided into smaller agile teams. From these smaller teams, a designated ‘ambassador’ meets with ambassadors from other teams to improve collaboration across teams.

The same approaches for remote stand up can be used for the scrum of scrums, but these meetings tend to be more focused on integration and planning issues.

Working across boundaries

However, while this process works in principle, at times its implementation can be complicated. In many cases, different teams use different work management systems. Jira in one team and Backlog in another for example.

While the problems are bad within a company, when teams from different companies need to collaborate, the situation becomes significantly more serious. In this case, a simple meeting of ambassadors will not suffice to keep all members aligned which is where a tool like Exalate comes into the picture.

While it is possible to give external partners access to internal communication tools like Slack and Typetalk, you would not want them to have access to your development tools or Jira Software. Even the access you grant to Slack and Trello would need to be restricted to specific channels or boards.

Exalate is a purpose-built cross-company integration solution allowing to share tasks with other teams, even when they are using completely different work management systems. Everyone can track project progress in their own environment, reducing the friction imposed by using multiple systems.

Francis Martens Francis is passionate about product development and how teams can provide top-notch products that have an impact. He is a co-founder of iDalko and the product manager of Exalate, the leading cross-company integration solution.