How does your team run their standups?

Whether you call them Scrums, standups or huddles, one way to plan-as-you-go with an adaptive approach is to hold coordination events on a regular basis to ensure that everyone is working in an aligned manner and on the most important work.

One of the more common topics for such events is to discuss the backlog of short term team work.

But such discussions can be held in a few different ways.

To ensure that everyone has a chance to have their say, one approach might be to discuss incomplete work on a person-by-person basis.

While this has the benefit of ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and gives each team member the opportunity to raise any concerns they have or confirm any assumptions they might be making, it can also result in team members who have already spoken disengaging from what is being discussed by the team members who come after them. While this would not be of much concern if each team member’s work is independent of others, in most cases there are likely to be dependencies between the team members at either a work item or an activity level.

In such cases, if a team member has “tuned out” the conversation, they might end up missing something which was important to their work or they might miss the chance to correct an invalid assumption being made by the others.

An alternative which addresses this downside is to go work item by work item. This is likely to keep most team members engaged longer than the person-by-person approach, especially when multiple team members need to collaborate together to complete a work item. However, when some team members have finished the work items they have pulled and are now actively supporting others in the completion of those “foreign” work items, not everyone on the team might get the chance to speak up.

Where work items go through a well defined work flow, another option is to discuss work items by the delivery phase they are in. Assuming team members are working on items across different phases, this will reduce the likelihood of a team member getting disengaged from the general conversation, even if they have already finished discussion the work items in the current phase.

Most work management tools will provide a method to organize the items within the columns of a work board so the team might discuss the incomplete ones in the order they are presented. However, a more efficient approach might be to prioritize the vital few which really merit discussion.

There are three common ways in which this could be done:

By cost of delay – this would include considerations such as business value, risk reduction, dependencies to upcoming work items or the ability to exploit an opportunity

By work item aging – assuming the team has reached sufficient maturity to have just a few different work item sizes then the team could focus on discussing the active work items which are outside normal aging expectations for their size

By work item status – this could be done by starting with blocked work items, then those with identified impediments, and then (if warranted) the remaining ones.

Many of the teams I’d worked with had used a person-by-person method for their coordination events but I wanted to understand what the distribution was across the different approaches.

I ran a one-week poll in PMI’s LinkedIn Project, Program and Portfolio Management discussion group and in the ProjectManagement.com community. Out of the 369 responses received, 66% used a work item-by-work item approach, 20% went person-by-person, 11% discussed work items by delivery stage and 3% had some other method. In the latter case, I had requested respondents to provide details, but the comments in most cases reflected a prioritized work item-by-work item approach.

Regardless of how your team coordinates their work, it is important that such events aren’t perceived as a waste of time by the team or by key stakeholders. Discussing the effectiveness and efficiency of all standard events within process improvement sessions such as retrospectives is one way to ensure this doesn’t happen.

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores).

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