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Managed Chaos
Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Distributed Standup Meetings: Spam or Ham?

Distributed Stand-up meetings essentially becomes a lot of ceremony and the true value of communication, feedback, team bonding, working towards a common goal starts falling apart.

If you have done distributed stand up meetings you would have noticed that its not easy to communicate to a bunch of people on the other side of the phone. (Telephonic conversations are good when there is just one person on the other side. As the number of people on the other end of the phone starts increasing the quality of communication starts dropping).

Also if you have noticed, when a person does not know who is listening on the other side of the phone, they usually speak very little. May be they just talk about 2 out of the 3 things (What they worked on and what they plan to work on. They skip the learning/roadblocks part). I would argue that you can understand who is working on what by looking at the story wall (you don’t really need a stand-up for that). More on this @ Standup Meetings: Missing the Forest for a Tree.

People have tried using Video Conferencing and other techniques, but it usually falls short of encouraging and fostering true communication. It also leads to a lot of time wastage and ceremony (prep-time, getting to the video conferencing room or setting up the video conference tool on your machine). IMHO, its easy to get distracted when the person speaking is not in front of you. So your attention span starts reducing and if you have a team of 8-10 people, it would be difficult to comprehend and remember who said what.

So if Distributed Stand-up meetings as they stand are not the best options, what else can we do?

I have 2 suggestions:

1) Really light weight option: User a chat (conference) room. Everyone from the team shares their bits simultaneously and then people have a small chat to decide the game plan for the day. This has a nice side effect. These notes get naturally persisted in the chat history. So if someone misses the standup or if someone wants to go back and refer to some day’s standup notes, they have it accessible. Also creates a felling of async, non-blocking io (Remember the good old open source days, this is how we used to work).

2) Slightly more process centric: One-on-One Standing Meeting: Each location has their own stand-up meeting at beginning of their day (or what ever time is suitable for the local team). And then, when both teams are online, one member from each team will update the other team(s) about their progress and anything else which is important that might affect the other team(s).

Usually people think of this as a Scrum-of-Scrums where ScrumMasters from each team present their status. We don’t use ScrumMaster. Instead we make this a rotating responsibility of each team member.  Which means, one team member from each team will represent their team in the standing meeting in a round-robin fashion per day. Next day, the person who represented the team in the standing meeting, not only shares their progress with others, but also shares other team’s progress with the rest of the team. The next person in the queue then attends the next standing meeting. These meetings are usually very light weight and are done in 5-10 mins.

P.S: One pant does not fit everyone, find out what works for you and evolve from there.

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