Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight?!

Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight?!

August 26, 2015 Corporate Life Personal Retrospective 2

Ah, the elusive well-executed stand up meeting. In my experience, the stand up or daily Scrum is often the first thing we try to implement when introducing a team to Scrum and also the first thing to deteriorate as teams mature or don’t mature. But what actually makes a good stand up and what are some symptoms to avoid for a poor one? I’ve been circling this for awhile now and here is what I’ve come up with.

Characteristics of a ‘good’ stand up are fairly straightforward. Everyone is involved, they are engaged and looking at one another, not at a single person (e.g. ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Tech Lead), they are answering the three questions, making commitments/plans for the day, identifying blockers, it starts on time…oh and of course, they’re STANDING.

Standing is one of the first things that disappears as stand ups become more habitual and less constructive. It starts as leaning against a chair or wall, then it migrates to leaning over the table, then to sitting in a chair (on the edge maybe). If allowed to continue this leads to full out slouching and not showing up at the stand up meeting. Often as a ScrumMaster I will be the only one standing. It’s an uncomfortable position, but I do call people out. Sure I get the stink eye or the uncomfortable glance, but it usually works. Lack of standing often is paired with people arriving late to stand up or the stand up waiting to start until everyone has arrived – stand up should always start on time. These are the first steps.

Secondly, the area they are standing in and the shape in which they are standing is an often overlooked factor. I think the stand up should be more in the open versus in a sequestered area so that people the team is working with are not wary of joining and can feel welcome. This helps everyone – unless of course it results in a distracted or too large stand up. Shape-wise, is the team standing in a line? Are they just going in order down the line? Is the area they’re meeting in conducive to a stand up in the first place? In my opinion, the team should be in a circle so they can look at one another (and no one should be in the center of that circle).

The eye contact is another pain point I have noticed with teams. They look at the PO, ScrumMaster, or only at a board or TV screen with their tickets/stories on it. They don’t look at each other! It is so important for them to look at and engage with each other as it helps to build rapport and solve problems together. There are a few great ideas I’ve come up with for this and gleaned from the help of my Twitter buddies:

  • Remind the team of the stand up goals (duh, but it’s often overlooked)
  • Have the person who is distracting the team stand outside the circle, avert their eyes, act distracted etc.
  • Have the person who is distracting the team not come to stand up
  • Have the team close their eyes so they can’t look at anyone

This brings me to the ‘fight’ part of this title. I tried the ‘eyes closed’ stand up. I even tried to make a joke of it saying they could then roll their eyes at me and I wouldn’t know. Most of the team humored me, but a product owner was very annoyed and asked if we could do a ‘normal’ stand up. I declined and said this was how we were going to do stand up today, if he/she didn’t like it, they could leave the meeting. This resulted in a slamming of a laptop (also banned at stand ups) and storming off. Ouch. A good retrospective topic at that.

What I found with keeping eyes closed at the stand up is that the team is forced to listen to each other and not focus on one person. They pay more attention and really absorb what the others are saying versus zoning out when it is not their turn. And while it is a bit awkward, it does really make them think about who goes next and what questions to ask. This was only day 1, but I anticipate many more epiphanies to emerge.


A stand up is not a status, a sit down meeting, or a fight for power. It is about the team. As a ScrumMaster/Agile Coach, or team member you need to empower yourself to enhance and encourage effective (how’s that for alliteration?) stand up practices and discourage those that take the team off their forward improvement trajectory. While it is uncomfortable to point these things out, it is also vital in team growth and maturity. While some teams might think they no longer need stand up, this is very rarely the case, so stick to your Scrum morals and inspect and adapt it!

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2 Responses

  1. Jesper Nyström says:

    Hi Natalie,

    Thanx for all your insightful posts here. I read them thoroughly and I often come back again for reflections.

    A thought about the daily meeting. Many (of my) team members tend to just tell what activities they have been performing rather than telling what outcome or impact their work have had. This is one of my main topics as a Scrum Master to remind them of why we have this meeting. Focus on the next 24 hours to do the most important stuff to achieve the sprint goal…

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