Rethinking Agile, Part 2 – The Stand Down Meeting

In Part 1 of this series, I suggested a new concept of adding a “deload” into your agile practices. In Part 2, I have a second new addition in the same vein as the deload: the Stand Down.

A Refresher on Standups

If there’s one shared practice among every organization that practices some form of agile, it’s the standup meeting. The idea is simple enough. At the start of your workday, the whole team “stands up” from their desks, and everyone gives a brief update on the progress of their work.

The update can take many forms, but the typical pattern is to answer these three questions:

  1. What did you work on yesterday?
  2. What are you planning to work on today?
  3. Are there any blockers to that work that we can address as a team?
    1. Why Agile has Standups

      Regular and direct communication among teammates and stakeholders is at the core of agile methodologies.

      The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
      The Agile Manifesto

      Asynchronous communication like Slack or email can be great for staying in touch throughout a workday. However, having a set time where a team speaks face-to-face (Zoom included) aids in surfacing issues that may not be immediately apparent or as easily communicated otherwise.

      Especially on larger or distributed teams, individuals probably maintain different working hours. The standup also kicks off a “shared working hours” block where everyone on the team commits to being available to meet or pair on work.

      Addressing Blockers

      IMHO, the last standup question is by far the most important. The value of the first two questions is to help the team stay in alignment with the priorities of work. (It is NOT to ensure that everyone is “busy” or “productive.”) But it is the ease and speed with which individuals can get unstuck that largely determines how productive an agile team will be.

      I don’t know about you, but some mornings it’s a struggle to remember what I ate for dinner last night. The context you lose between finishing work one day and picking it up the next can be jarring. This is where the Stand Down comes in.

      A man fails to put on a cap, and pretends like he was just scratching his head

      Stand Down Meeting?

      The Stand Down meeting should occur at the end of a team’s agreed-upon working hours. It provides a bookend with the standup and a natural point for individuals to take stock of progress for the day.

      The focus of the meeting should be similar to the standup, to address any blockers that popped up during the day. At a bare minimum, a team can make some notes to refer back to the next day and save some context that might otherwise fade overnight. Some team members could try to work through a blocker after the Stand Down, before ending their workdays.

      A standup should open your day with promise and potential, while a Stand Down should be an opportunity for closure and reflection on a successful day. Like agile retrospective meetings that close sprints, a Stand Down is a daily retrospective, a chance for a little celebration.

      Running Standups and Stand Downs

      With the addition of a daily Stand Down, the format of the standup should change as well. Here’s my proposal.

      Standups occur daily at the start of a team’s working hours, and everyone comes prepared to answer two questions:

      1. What are you planning to accomplish today?
      2. Are there still unresolved blockers to that work, from where you left off yesterday, that we can address as a team?

      A Stand Down meeting occurs daily at the end of a team’s working hours, and everyone comes prepared to answer two questions:

      1. What did you accomplish today?
      2. Are there blockers that kept you from accomplishing more that we can address as a team?
        1. Benefits

          I believe Running Standups/Stand Downs has the potential to improve team alignment and shared context. They can accelerate a team’s ability to address blockers and get unstuck. Notice that we no longer need to ask what the team worked on “yesterday.” We also modify the standup blockers question, since those may have been addressed from the previous day’s Stand Down. Teams should track the answers to this question. That will help identify patterns that might indicate a particularly thorny issue or whether the team is properly addressing blockers during Stand Downs.

          Although we’re adding a second meeting to every day, by addressing blockers more regularly, I believe the total meeting time may decrease.

          And there’s an additional benefit to team morale. Stand Down question one is a status update for the team, but it’s also a prompt to celebrate your wins, however small. In a traditional standup, you go directly from past successes to the work ahead with little pause for recognition or reflection. On the flip side, separating the sharing of accomplishments from focusing on new work allows your team to appreciate your collective efforts.

          Minions cheering

          If you try a Stand Down meeting with your agile team, I’d love to hear how it goes!

          Read the complete series:
          Rethinking Agile, Part 1 – Deload Periods
          Rethinking Agile, Part 2 – The Stand Down Meeting
          Rethinking Agile, Part 3: Stop Estimating Effort


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