7 ways to improve engineering standups

Published on
April 10, 2023

Employees think that a third of the meetings they attend each week are pointless. 😖

As a leader, that stat is a tough pill to swallow. After all, you want to hold meetings that bring your teams together and have productive outcomes, not that everyone dreads attending. 

So, is your daily standup a good use of time? We polled 250 dev teams:

  • 50% of product managers think standup is a good use of time
  • 63% of scrum masters think standup is a good use of time
  • But only 29% of engineers and tech leads think standup is good use of time

Standup meetings are an important part of project management, and they need to be organized and focused — but most of all, they need to be a good use of time. Especially since standup is a meeting that 87% of agile teams have five days a week!

Engineers are busy, so anything that’s part of their daily routine is worth examining and optimizing. Below, you’ll find seven surefire tips to make your engineering team's daily standup meetings helpful and enjoyable for the whole team. 🙌

What should a daily standup look like?

Daily standup meetings (or daily scrum meetings) are short team meetings held each day. The goal of a standup is to help provide insight into the projects and goals of team members, as well as examine what roadblocks they are facing.

Standups are meant to be quick meetings that allow agile team members to speak and address issues. While traditionally held in the office, standups will now often occur over Zoom or video calls to include distributed team members.

Most standup meetings generally focus on three questions:

  1. ✅ Progress: What are you currently working on?
  2. 📝 Plan: What do you hope to accomplish before the next meeting?
  3. 🚫 Blockers: What roadblocks or problems are holding you back?

Daily standups might seem straightforward, but often turn into a lengthy problem solving session involving only a few people — or the focus shifts to status updates. Either way, the rest of the team tunes out and considers the meeting a waste of their time. 

If the conversation is dominated by just a few people discussing just a few problems, leaders might not be aware of all potential blockers and assume things are running smoothly — even when they aren’t! 

Following these seven tips can keep your engineering standup on the path to greater efficiency. 

1) Use a flexible standup tool that supports both live and async standup meetings like Spinach 

More employees working from home or having hybrid working options means that not everyone is in the office at the same time. Remote team members might not even be located in the same time zone or the same country, which can make planning a live meeting difficult. 😵‍💫

Async meetings don’t occur live. Instead, they use asynchronous forms of communication like emails, message boards, or instant messages to share information. 

For example, rather than holding your engineering standup at 9 o’clock each morning, you might have team members submit their answers to the standup questions using a platform like Spinach. Then everyone can review their colleagues' answers in their own time rather than disrupting their daily workflow to attend a meeting.

There are pros and cons to each type of meeting. Async meetings are great for distributed teams where a meeting at a specific time is difficult for everyone to attend. However, they can be limited in the amount of discussion that comes out of them. Live meetings are great for teams who live in the same city or time zone but don’t always work for busy or large, distributed teams.

Spinach is a great tool for standups because it has live and asynchronous standups capabilities. That allows you to find the best format for your team and support either option as needed. Spinach will even send you updates when it’s time to prep your updates for either live or async meetings! 🗓️

Spinach allows you to easily rotate through each update with a timer so the meeting stays on track and keeps attendees engaged. You can even get a meeting summary emailed to you or sent to stakeholders so they know what went on without attending in person, which is a huge relief for busy higher-ups.

2) Encourage team engagement

Another common struggle with a daily standup is keeping the team members interested. As the team leader or scrum master, it’s your job to help keep them entertained. That way, they remain engaged throughout the meeting to give their status update and discuss blockers instead of looking at their watches and waiting for the meeting to end. ⏱️

An engagement element like an icebreaker is a great way to keep teams involved in meetings. Platforms like Spinach have built-in icebreakers so the entire team can participate. You can use the round-robin format with the status update or get the icebreaker out of the way at the beginning of the meeting. (And don't worry: Spinach's icebreakers aren't the hackneyed, corny questions that make eyes roll!)

3) Take unresolved issues or follow-up conversations offline

When a team shares updates, it’s common for follow-up questions or issues to emerge. However, trying to address concerns or ask follow-up questions during the daily standup can cause them to completely jump off the rails. Before you know it, you're in the middle of a discussion about desk layouts or the coffee machine, and the standup has officially been ruined.

Rather than trying to answer every question or solve every issue during the standup, take it offline. As a leader, you can schedule follow-up calls with only relevant team members or look into issues on your own rather than taking meeting time away from the rest of the team. This helps you keep your standups shorter and makes them more relevant to the people who are participating in the meeting.

4) Keep standups short and focused

Another roadblock to productive engineering standups is the loss of focus. Team members might start discussing issues unrelated to their three questions or want to turn the meeting into a catch-all for personal conversations. The team leader needs to remember that there is a time and a place to discuss personal plans, and it’s not during the daily scrum. 🙅

Keep your meetings short and focused on limited off-topic discussion. It also helps to have a clear roadmap to keep the meeting on track. Over time, you can establish a clear workflow for meetings so team members aren’t even tempted to discuss other issues or lose sight of the meeting goal.

5) Don’t micromanage

Standups are a time for software development and engineering teams to share updates and discuss sprint goals. However, it’s also important to remember that these teams are often independent and work at their own pace. Engineers don’t like to be micromanaged! But that can be an unforeseen side effect of poorly run daily standups.

Rather than trying to micromanage your engineers and get into every minute detail of their days, you can refocus on the goal of meetings. A tool like Spinach helps engineering managers run effective standup meetings. You can create a hybrid meeting format so that status updates are async and only blockers are discussed live. This allows you to use your position as a leader to help solve challenges your engineering team faces rather than trying to manage their ongoing projects.

6) Focus standup on blockers

Speaking of focusing on blockers, that’s the next tip! While going through status updates and ongoing projects is important, it shouldn’t be the only takeaway from your standup. Blockers are the real issues slowing progress toward goals and making tasks difficult for engineers to accomplish. Knowing the issues is the first essential step toward fixing them.

When it comes to addressing blockers, Spinach really takes standups to the next level. Our research finds that teams using Spinach surface 11 times more blockers than industry benchmarks. With data gathered from thousands of standups, we’ve learned that only 3% of updates shared in a standup name a specific blocker. That means that the vast majority of meetings might mention issues but don’t name a source. 🫤

By using Spinach, teams were able to flag 36% of updates with yellow or red flag markers. That means that teams shared 11x more potential issues and blockers that have held them back. It also means that those teams with flagged issues could spend their meeting time focused on potential issues and finding solutions.

Rather than using your daily standup to micromanage status updates or listen to team members drone on as they list their projects and tasks, focusing on blockers helps the standup be more productive. By spending the time the team has together focused on potential issues, you can work collaboratively to develop solutions, reassign projects, or offer advice as a leader.

7) Choose a standup that works for your team

Not every standup is the same, and some teams may need a bit more (or a bit less) robust standup meeting format than the standard "progress, plan, blockers." 

For example, some teams composed of younger or junior engineers benefit from a simple YTB (yesterday, today, blockers) format. These help teams focus on their current and recently completed tasks and address blockers. However, trying this format with senior engineers is insulting. After all, a seasoned engineer who has been with your company for years probably thinks reporting what they accomplished yesterday is a waste of time (with few exceptions).

Understanding your team's experience level and culture before you decide on a format or meeting agenda is important. As a leader, it’s up to you to decide how to format daily engineering standups in a way that helps teams grow and provides a better outcome than other workflows.

A tool like Spinach has multiple formats for standups that you can explore. You can explore and create a meeting flow that works best for your team. Spinach also has tools to help you shuffle speaking orders, add timers or discussion blocks, integrate with other applications like Zoom or Slack, and help your team remain accountable. That way, no matter what type of standup you want to run, you can use Spinach to optimize and facilitate better team meetings.

Enhance your daily standups with Spinach

When you implement the tips above, you can create an agile meeting your engineers are invested in attending. Software engineering and development teams in particular can benefit from the teamwork and problem-solving that a productive daily meeting can facilitate — why not make them as powerful as possible? 🤔

Spinach is a powerful application designed specifically to make daily standups more effective for businesses. With Spinach, you can control how standups are formatted and use our wide array of tools to optimize the experience for your teams. To learn more, sign up for Spinach today and see how it can help you turn your daily standups from dreaded, unproductive time-wasters to important and productive meetings for all team members.

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