How to prepare for a daily stand-up meeting
Like it or not, daily stand-ups are usually a regular, integral part of IT work. In this article, I will share some practical tips and insights on how (as a team member) to prepare for a daily scrum/agile meeting. With this guidance, you will be able to unlock the true potential of your team's morning stand-up (or, if you're a stand-up hater, make them less annoying).
What is a stand-up meeting?
A daily stand-up meeting (also known as a daily scrum) is a method used in agile software development to facilitate a quick and efficient exchange of information among team members. It typically lasts for about 15 minutes and involves each team member's brief summary of:
what they accomplished the previous day
what they plan to do today
what kind of blockers they are encountering
So, that’s the general definition. But how does it look in everyday life in IT?
Daily stand-up: Expectations VS reality
Many people treat daily stand-ups as an opportunity for small talk before the start of actual work. However, this is not the worst-case scenario.
The nature of daily stand-up can be unstable. Instead of being a short, goal-oriented meeting, it can get out of hand and become a lengthy debate about marginal issues. Or quite the opposite: a meeting where everyone unreflectively reads their “to-do” list to others (yes, the infamous “meeting that could've been an email” or Slack message). Besides being a waste of time, this can also lead to a harmful impact on team morale: by frustration, (broadly defined) poor communication, or creating an atmosphere of pressure and control.
Why is it worth it to prepare well for daily stand-ups?
Fortunately, a morning stand-up doesn't have to look as described above. But before we get into the specific ways to prepare for daily stand-up, let's stop for a second and ask ourselves: why (besides relieving irritation) is it worth doing?
Increased efficiency: your own, as well as the group's. Knowing what to discuss can help you manage your time effectively during the stand-up. You show that you respect time: your own and other people's.
Better communication among the team members on several levels. By preparing in advance, you will be able to describe your tasks, problems, and blockers more clearly — which not only helps you to avoid misunderstandings but can also open the floodgates for potential feedback/advice/help. This practice also influences greater transparency and trust within the team. Additionally, it provides training in soft skills that are priceless in IT.
Improved focus (also outside the meeting). When you prepare for a stand-up, in a way, you present a more detailed, insightful version of your to-do list. Knowing what difficulties you will face during the day, you can have an effect similar to the "rubber duck method" — where looking at the problem in your head from different angles can lead to a solution.
Strategies for effective stand-up preparation
While listening to other team members, I feel I can easily guess whether someone has taken the time to prepare their speech or they are constructing their speech live. A good stand-up status update should be prepared in advance. You don't need much time to do this; 10 minutes before the meeting is enough in most cases.
At the beginning of my speech, I talk about how many tasks I had to deal with (in any way), and how many questions I will have/how many things I would like to discuss more extensively after the status update.
I prepare notes for myself in advance. During my speech, I give information according to the following model:
The ticket number in the task manager for the task I was somehow supposed to address (so it's easy to find if someone shares the screen during the meeting) and the name of the task (because the number alone will not tell other listeners anything about the subject of a task).
The current status of the task: it is still "in testing", I pushed it forward to "in review", it's already done, I sent it back to "in progress", etc.
Explanation of the reason why this is happening ^.
In this way, I provide an update on all of my tasks one by one. I save the questions for last.
Sometimes, I also like to add information about my level of busyness — for example, that I have nothing more to do, so I am happy to help someone/take over the tasks of others.
Update (“What did you do yesterday?”):
OP-1526: “[FE] Profile description length validation is not dynamic; error message only appears after form submission”. It was in “Ready for testing”, so I took it and tested it. The bug was still occurring, so I sent it back to “In progress” with an appropriate comment.
OP-1543: “[FE] Inviting a new user by link”. It was in “Ready for testing” so I assigned it to myself and put it “In testing”, but I haven’t started yet. I will start today.
Goals for today:
- Like I’ve said: today I want to focus on OP-1543: “[FE] Inviting a new user by link”.
- OP-1531 “[FE] [Registration] Registration with unacceptable age (too young)”. I’m still waiting for an answer about the requirements from the Product Owner. I can’t start work without it.
Think of preparing for the daily stand-up as an exercise in communication/soft skills. After all, as a tester writing tasks/comments/tickets in Jira (or some other task manager of your choice), you too need to briefly and succinctly describe a given problem/bug — to convey as much relevant information as possible in the least amount of text. In preparing for stand-ups, you practice describing the essence of the problem.
Timing of your speech
Remember to adjust the timing of your speech according to the conditions of the meeting. If you don't have a predetermined time to speak, pay attention to the duration of the meeting and the amount of people attending. Based on these facts, try to determine the time of your speech.
It pays to be thorough, but not at the expense of other meeting participants. There is always a risk of going into too much detail. For example, if you have a daily meeting with five people, 2–3 minutes for each is enough — and the whole team will make it in 15 minutes. But if there are ten of you, it is better to aim for 1 minute.
It’s also a good idea to set the time of your speech yourself and try to stick to it. However, it is important not to overdo it — the most important criterion should be the clarity of the message; it's not a race to see who can report the status of their work the fastest. Practice explaining any complex ideas or issues clearly and concisely. You don't have much time, so make sure the things you're about to say can be understood easily.
Of course, the quality of the stand-ups also largely depends on the person leading the meeting (scrum master, project manager, product owner — you name it). However, it is worth starting the change with yourself. Even if you are the only person on the team applying good practices, it will be much easier for you to start demanding the same from others by demonstrating their effectiveness yourself.
Some of the advice listed here seems trivial, even obvious. I assure you, it's not. Ask yourself: how many people do you know who prepare for the morning stand-up to this extent?
By building the habit of regularly using (even some of) the strategies listed here, you contribute to better conditions in the team — and thus to better results.
Good luck — and have short, concise, and to-the-point stand-ups!