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How to plan effective stand-up meetings: A playbook

Stand-up meetings are an effective way to share updates and keep teams aligned. Here’s a playbook to maximize your stand-ups  — whether in-person or virtual.  

Here’s a truism in business: Almost every company has too many meetings and just about everyone wants less meetings, not more. 

According to a study from MIT, the average office worker spent about six hours a week in meetings before COVID-19 and senior managers spent upwards of 23 hours a week in meetings. And those numbers have shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the new buzzword “Zoom fatigue.” 

But when you’ve got a bunch of different people working on a project together, it’s important to schedule regular check-ins that keep everyone on the same page — while also respecting everyone’s time. 

So, how can you keep your team on the same page and avoid scheduling an excessive amount of meetings?  

Simple: Try blocking out 15 to 30 minutes for a stand-up meeting instead. 

Below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about stand-up meetings and how to host effective check-ins. We’ll explore: 

What is a stand-up meeting? 

Stand-up meetings are typically short, regular check-ins that can occur daily or weekly. Sometimes referred to as Scrum meetings, stand-ups are designed to bring teams together to go over priorities, finished work and obstacles.  

As the name implies, stand-ups are meant to be held while people are standing, which has been proven to reduce the time of meetings by up to 34%.  

The intentional decision helps keep these meetings brief and, more importantly, to-the-point are hallmarks of effective stand-ups.

These meetings have historically proven popular among developers and engineering teams who ascribe to an Agile development process.

During COVID-19 — and even before it for remote and distributed teams — stand-up meetings have become virtual affairs with teams connecting over Zoom or Google Hangouts. 

How to run an effective stand-up meeting: 7 simple tips

Effective stand-up meetings are short, concise and on-topic and typically feature small teams sharing their priorities, daily tasks and blockers. 

But hosting an effective stand-up meeting means having a good handle on time management, staying focused on what matters and ignoring what doesn’t. 

These five tips will help you run effective stand-up meetings that work: 

1. Set a recurring stand-up meeting time

Stand-up meetings tend to be short affairs lasting no more than 15 to 30 minutes — and  that’s because they follow a recurring cadence and schedule. 

Some teams will plan daily standups, while others will meet several times a week or even weekly. Whatever your cadence is, it’s important to schedule all of your stand-up meetings for the same time to keep things consistent and help your team plan around the meeting schedule. 

2. Plan a regular stand-up agenda and stick to it

Agendas help all meetings stay on course. But they’re especially important when it comes to running an effective stand-up meeting.

One tip is to pick an agenda structure that you can use at every meeting — this helps people know what to expect and how to plan accordingly. Common examples include having each person explain their top priorities for the day and talking through any obstacles. Teams will often frequently have a “post-scrum” period at the end of the meeting to talk through larger items, too.  

To that end, building an agenda around asking team members to share what they’ve taken care of since the last meeting, what they need to do before the next meeting and any challenges they are facing in completing their work will help keep everyone informed.

And if you’re holding a virtual stand-up meeting, be sure to follow our tips for running effective virtual meetings.

3. Have a dedicated meeting leader

Whether it’s your project manager or CEO, knowing who is leading your team through a stand-up meeting cuts down on wasted time.

The point person can also ensure that the conversation stays on track and that action items are clearly assigned and delegated.

4. Define the goals for the meeting

While more relaxed than longer meetings, stand-up meetings still need to have clear goals. 

Your goals will of course change from project to project. But in general, an effective stand-up meeting helps ensure all team members are in sync and that everyone has a clear picture of how a project is progressing — and what they need to do next. 

5. Stand up at your stand-up meeting

By definition, stand-up meetings are supposed to be short — otherwise they just turn into regular meetings that people didn’t budget time for.

For those who are able, standing up is one of the easiest ways to ensure that people are reminded of what makes this meeting different: It’s supposed to be quick. (Plus, research shows standing up during a meeting leads to shorter meetings.)

Implementing this simple but practical policy will help your team stay better focused and make the gathering worthwhile. 

6. Keep your stand-up meetings on task

While easier said than done, there’s no reason why stand-up meetings can’t be short if the team is able to stick to the agenda.

But of course, it is inevitable for teams to follow a thread or react to something off-topic that seems important. 

When this happens, the meeting’s point person can redirect by acknowledging the distraction, flagging it for further discussion and moving on. 

Having a notetaker during each meeting can help to keep a list of topics and thoughts that need to be returned to.

7. Change up where and how you host your meetings

If most stand-up meetings benefit from regularity, some teams might also find it beneficial to change things up from time to time and host their stand-ups in different spaces around the office — or outside of it. 

Whether it’s choosing a different spot in the office to meet or orienting a virtual meeting around a specific activity such as coffee, there are a variety of ways to create a more engaging format teams can pursue. 

In light of COVID-19, some teams are holding hybrid-style stand-up meetings with some participants leveraging meeting spaces in flexible workspaces and others dialing in. For teams, it’s important to change where and how you hold stand-up meetings to avoid meeting fatigue and keep people properly engaged.

Simple rules for running a productive stand-up meeting

Beyond these tips for holding an effective stand-up meeting, there are some hard-and-fast rules that can help you maximize productivity:

1. Be direct 

No one gains anything by walking away from a meeting confused — and nothing wastes more time than not saying what you mean.

To keep stand-up meetings short and to the point, it is important to be direct. 

CEO and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, Anthony Tjan, writes in Harvard Business Review that being direct is critical:

“When we avoid conflict or try to skirt directness, it does a disservice to all involved, and often just plain wastes time. Consider the potential outcomes if you avoid directness: People leave the meeting thinking it was a good session, but they are not actually aligned, or people leave a little foggy as to the purpose and next steps.”

To keep everyone on the same page, and to keep stand-up meetings worthwhile, be direct about what your priorities are.

2. Have a distinct purpose

Because stand-up meetings take place on a regular basis, it’s necessary to make sure that everyone on the team knows why these meetings are happening, and what it is that everyone needs to get from being present. 

When setting your agenda, it’s a good idea to ask yourself “what does my team need to walk away from this meeting with?”

planning-standup-meetings

It may be that they need information, encouragement or just a general check-in to talk about obstacles to ensure that your project is moving forward.

Whatever the case may be, keeping your purpose front of mind will ensure stand-up meetings are a success. 

3. End a stand-up meeting with clear next steps

The best way to wrap up a stand-up meeting is to make sure that everyone knows what they’re expected to do next.

Whether it’s the notetaker or the meeting leader, someone should compile a list of action items once your stand-up meeting is done.

Thanks to the direct conversation that has been taking place, there should be little doubt as to what needs to get done and who needs to do it — including tasks assigned to any team members who were unable to join.

How often do you need to host stand-up meetings?

Figuring out the meeting cadence for your group will depend on the exact needs of your project, and the availability and willingness of your team.

Many teams hold stand-up meetings on a daily basis, especially during the final crunch time of a project. But that isn’t always necessary. 

Other teams meet less frequently — once a week, or every other day, for example.

What matters in the end is being realistic: Be responsive to when people are available and what they have on their plates. If your team is distributed across different time zones, for instance, try to find a time that works for everyone. 

And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your team. At Hana, our engineering team schedules monthly retrospectives to field feedback on what’s working, what’s not working and what we need to put effort into fixing. 

The 3 best tools for stand-up meetings

Choosing the right technology and tools can make the difference between having a meandering conversation and holding an effective stand-up meeting.

In general, you want to choose a tool that allows you to track assigned tasks and monitor the progress of those tasks. This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as involved as a Kanban tool like Airtable. 

Here are three popular and impactful tools for stand-up meetings:  

1. Project Management & Collaboration Tools for Stand-Up Meetings


Why they’re useful:

Project management tools can tell you what's being worked on, who's working on what and where something is in a process, all at a glance.

They often include helpful notification and automation features and provide ways to break projects down into small steps so everyone can stay on task.

What they’re best used for: 

Project management and collaboration tools are crucial for any team working on a project — these tools enable seamless communication and ways to measure progress against project goals.

The best of these tools help teams organize, track and manage their work in a software that compliments their workflow. 

Options in the market: 

The most popular project management tools by far for stand-up meetings are Jira and Confluence from Atlassian. Jira is a project and ticket tracking platform that allows teams to build out task trees with dependencies and Confluence is a wiki platform that allows teams to track projects and build out documentation.

Other popular options include Trello, which uses a Kanban-style method to enable easy, real-time collaboration between team members and even multiple teams and projects; Airtable, which offers a dynamic database, Gantt chart and Kanban ticketing system; and Asana lets users map out each step of a project and organize all the details of their work in one central place. 

standup-meeting-tips

2. Using Gantt Charts in Stand-Up Meetings 

Why they’re useful: 

A Gantt chart is a visual view of tasks scheduled over time, allowing everyone to see how a project is progressing against internal and external deadlines and what tasks need to get done on any given day.

What they’re best used for:

Gantt charts are excellent for tracking progress and keeping track of all project deliverables and KPIs. 

Options in the market:  

Monday.com provides both project management and Gantt-style productivity tools in its powerful software; GanttPRO is a straightforward software with a user-friendly design that doesn’t require a lot of up-front learning time; Smartsheet is a robust work execution platform with a Gantt chart view that enables project managers to easily visualize and collaborate on projects.

3. Using Google Workspaces in Stand-Up Meetings

Why it’s useful

As the primary hub of all Google workplace and productivity products, Google Workspaces is an intuitive crowd favorite loaded with a range of software to help your team stay on track.

What it’s best used for: 

The most popular aspects of Google Workspaces include Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides, all of which are useful for tracking and planning projects (particularly Sheets and Slides). But it also includes Google Meet and Hangouts for video conferencing, Google Currents for a Slack-like communications channel with team members and Google Keep for keeping track of ongoing tasks, notes and lists.

Options in the market:

Google Workspaces is available on a subscription basis in different packages loaded with different features. 

A standard business account includes custom and secure business email, built-in video meetings and recording for 150 people and 2 TB of cloud storage per user. 

Google also provides fully custom Workspace options for enterprise companies looking for more capability and advanced features. 

Take this with you

The fact is this: Effective stand-up meetings lead to more productive teams — and better project results.

As quarterly and annual goals approach, short and focused stand-up meetings can help diverse teams align, share and overcome obstacles and meet goals — keeping their projects on track and on-time. 

No matter how often your team decides to hold stand-up meetings, make sure to have a clear purpose, stick to a (short) agenda, assign a point person and use a set of software and tools that keep your project moving forward. 

And, of course, if you can, stand up.

Learn more about the importance people place on meaningful connection at the office in our latest report, COVID-19 is accelerating the demand for flexibility and meaningful connection.

Nov 19 2020

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