A simple tip for more efficient standups

A while ago, I was asked for advice on how a team could improve efficiency on standup meetings. The team was growing, and their standups were taking an increasingly amount of time. I didn’t have much time looking into why this happened, so I simply suggested they could try walk the board instead of using the traditional Scrum meeting.

As it turned out, it didn’t have much effect. People on this team are usually responsible for one ticket (user story) each, so they all end up speaking anyway. I took a closer look, and realized their great team spirit might be of the reasons why their standups takes too much time. They like working together, there are many outgoing personalities, and they like solving issues directly in standups. In addition to sharing information and solving problems right away, the standup meetings function as a social meeting place.

This is all fine with me, actually I would even encourage it, as long as the discussions are relevant for most people, and they finish up within 15 minutes. As soon as the team grows, however, not all discussions are relevant for everyone. So, the question is, how to improve the efficiency without killing creativity and good team spirit?

In similar situations, we have had to establish some ground rules to add some discipline and structure in the standup meeting. One way of doing this is by establishing a “parking lot” next to the board.

Whenever a discussion starts, we take a collective responsibility to end it gracefully and note the topic down in the “parking lot”, so that the discussion can continue after the standup meeting. Putting names of whom should participate in each discussion, can help determine the most efficient order of dealing with the topics afterwards. Here’s an example:

This usually works quite well. It helps us focus on the meaning of standups, which is sharing status and relevant information – and it shortens them down. You should try to identify problems in the standup meetings, but you don’t need to solve them all right away. To make this work, you need to add some amount of disciplin, but only with rules the team have agreed upon.

If the team is involved in creating the rules, then you have made the first step building a collective responsibility within the team. I believe there’s subtle, but important, difference by how individuals interpret “ending a discussion” vs. “postponing a discussion and create a new arena for discussing the topic”. We don’t want strict rules to get in the way of good team spirit, do we?

Please share your tips for efficient standups!


  1. Instead of walking through the whole board you can change the rules a bit:

    * First, you go through all the blockers (if there are any), as these are definitely your pain points at any given moment, so if you want to invest precious standup time on something blockers are no-brainer.

    * Second, you discuss expedite items (if there are any), as this is top priority work from the perspective of the whole team.

    * Third, you go through items that hasn’t moved since last standup, as these are items which may be risky. Maybe they weren’t supposed to move but in this case it would be a quickie. Otherwise it’s worth to have a brief analysis what happened that prevented moving cards forward. BTW, it means that you should have some kind of mechanism to mark index cards which aren’t moving.

    * Fourth, you go through everything else but discussing items of one class of service after another in order of priorities. In other words you start with highest priority class of service and discuss all items of this class of service, then move to another one. Well, considering that you can tell which class of service is more important than other that is.

    One more rule: within each group you start from the right side of the board and go to the left. This shows that the closer an item is to being done the more you want to discuss it.

    Now what’s the difference you ask. Well there wouldn’t be any as either way you would go through all the content on the board, but given that you’ve just sorted all the items on the board from the most important to the least important ones you can perfectly strictly time-box standup even if there are still items to discuss.

    Chances are good that whatever leftovers you have these are items which require least discussion or no discussion at all. On one day you would be able to go only through the most painful items, on the other you will cover most of the board, but that’s perfectly OK.

    You can also think about skipping a discussion over a specific groups or sub-groups of items, e.g. a specific class of service, when you see it doesn’t really add any value. Ideally you will end up discussing only important stuff, say, blockers, expedited and stalled items and maybe others which are brought by any team member for an important reason.

Start the Discussion!Leave a Reply to Pawel Brodzinski Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *