Kanban Standup Meetings: A Way Out of Standup Hell?

Kanban Standup Meetings: A Way Out of Standup Hell?

In every Agile project, you’re supposed to have a daily standup meeting to facilitate communication and collective ownership. Intentions are always great at the beginning, but for me they have always descended into a tolerable mess. Can the Kanban method teach us anything about how to do them better?

If you’re following the Scrum process, the meeting should last 10-15 minutes and everyone should go around the room talking about what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan on doing today, and what, if anything, is blocking them. Every software development methodology I have read tells you to do them; I’ve even seen people have success with them on waterfall projects.

Everyone is excited about doing the standups correctly, and then someone gets tired and everyone sits down. Eventually what tends to happen on my team is that everyone reports to me, the leader, what they intend on doing today and I give them about 10-30 seconds of comment to help them along. While I’m engaging with each person, the others are thinking about other things. There is no collective ownership.

This is by no means a functional standup meeting.

What to do about this? David Anderson has some suggestions in his Kanban book:

The need to go around the room and ask the three questions is obviated by the card wall. The wall contains all the information about who is working on what. Attendees who come regularly can see what has changed since yesterday and whether something is blocked or is not visually evident. So standups take a different format with a Kanban system. The focus is on the flow of work.

I’ve done these types before, and it is very effective. The question is now, “What needs to happen today to move things forward?” and everyone participates. This becomes an obvious group exercise, not a task reporting meeting to management.

So in the new standup, you start with the board on the right side and talk about every card. The team collectively identifies the actions taken that day to move it forward. Items that are blocked are highlighted and the team plans for a course of action. While it is driven by a leader, the person driving it can change and everyone is engaged.

Also this way of doing standups scales well. Anderson writes:

Daniel Vacanti ran a successful standup with more than 50 people at a project at Corbis in 2007 where, despite the large size of the team, the meeting was completed in around 10 minutes every morning.

A ten minute meeting with fifty people; that’s amazing! I’m looking forward to getting my standups out of standup hell.