Zombie standups? Try walking the board

Be honest with yourself: after your last standup ended, if you were asked to repeat back what each person did in the last 24 hours and was planning to do in the next 24 hours, how would you do? I think most people would be lucky to get a 25% on that test.

Standup meetings are supposed to be for the team to move the sprint forward, but they’re often just a status update for the PM or Scrum Master, because everyone else recites their status and then zones out the rest of the time.

If that sounds painfully familiar, then I have a suggestion. Walk the board. Instead of going person by person, go ticket by ticket. Make sure to start on the right side of the board, because the work that is closest to done should be the focus in order to limit work in progress. For each ticket, ask the current assignee what’s next, and if there are any blockers.

It’s that simple, but it works like magic for creating engaged, valuable standups. Here’s why:

  1. Walking the board makes it impossible for people to just say their part and then zone out, since each person has to talk multiple times because they’re involved in multiple tickets (one in progress, a couple in QA, one in code review, etc.). People are more likely to hear and understand what others are working on since they’re actually paying attention.
  2. Walking the board focuses the conversation on what will move the sprint forward, which is the whole point of the daily standup. You only talk about what’s on the board. In a traditional standup, when people are saying what they worked on yesterday, they often start talking about stuff they did that isn’t related to the current sprint at all, like planning the next sprint, or going to a doctor’s appointment, or getting pulled into a different project for support. None of that stuff is relevant to the point of standup.
  3. Walking the board makes it impossible for tickets to linger in a status for days or weeks. Traditional standups make that too easy, because a ticket doesn’t get brought up at all unless it got worked on yesterday or someone is already planning to work on it today. Walking the board makes it painfully obvious when a ticket isn’t moving.

I also suggest rotating the facilitator regularly, perhaps weekly, to ensure that people aren’t just falling into to the habit of reporting to the leader instead of having a conversation.

But what about general announcements the team needs to hear? After you walk the board, ask “any general things we need to discuss?” and let people speak up.

But what if the work I’m doing to move the sprint forward isn’t on the board? Then either put it on the board or quit pretending that it’s moving the sprint forward.

Try it out and tweet at me if you do!

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