How We Moved to Async Stand-ups
And why we are not going back to meetings anytime soon.
In September we created a new product team dedicated to internal tools.
It's a small team—four people—devoted to improving lives of the 40+ Account Managers & Project Managers working at Translated.
Early on we spent a few weeks collecting requirements, prioritizing features, and laying a bit of groundwork for the development process.
🙋 Daily Stand-ups, in person
We did this at the office, and among other things we had daily stand-ups first thing in the morning. Stand-ups have always served us well, in particular:
- They make sure there are no blockers.
- They make people commit on daily goals, which has a positive effect on their motivation.
- They provide a sense of teamwork and belonging, which is precious for a newly formed team.
Over time, though, they also brought some drawbacks — mostly because of two elements:
- Real-time meetings are expensive — both in time and energy.
- Real-time meetings are synchronous — everyone needs to stop what she is doing to join.
There is no way around this. Meetings draw tons of energy from people, and they also interrupt other productive work that would benefit from long, focused streaks of time.
Moreover, in the case of stand-ups, many times the discussion turns out to be trivial, and the full meeting feels like an overkill. Anyway, we didn't make any changes to the process during the first weeks.
That is, until COVID stroke back and we went full remote.
📞 Remote Stand-ups, in call
Working from home, having regular stand-ups in call felt immediately wrong. Both issues in fact — expensiveness and synchronicity — got amplified:
- Calls are more expensive and less effective than meetings: people get exhausted rapidly, and it's hard to make them engaged.
- From remote, everyone is even more encouraged to work on their own schedule. Having a daily interruption, at an arbitrary time, feels like a waste.
✍️ Remote Stand-ups, asynchronous
After some tinkering, we tried ditching the daily call for a written, asynchronous report. We started using StatusHero to send stand-up reports, and connected it to Slack to have them in a dedicated channel.
This choice proved to be the right one, bringing both expected and unexpected benefits:
- We don't have to wait for each other — people have to submit their report before 10:00am, but within this window they do it whenever they like. For some it's 10:00, for others it's 8:30.
- Written communication beats verbal communication — taking the time to write down your tasks leads usually to a better result than just saying them out loud. Also, having them in written form allows us to go back to them when needed.
- Analytics — writing things down allows to track them, which in turn leads to insights. How often people complete their daily goals? How often are they blocked? Is there any trend happening? We started looking at these things at a daily level, which we definitely didn't before.
- Integrations — the killer feature of StatusHero for us is the integration with the other developer tools. By connecting it with GitHub and Clubhouse, we can see in every person's stand-up their contributions for the day, like commits and story updates. Combined with stand-up goals, this gives me, as a manager, the daily picture of what people are actually working on.
Over time we also found a few downsides, and worked to minimize them.
Sometimes we need deeper alignment, and the written report doesn't cut it. So we give everybody the power to summon a regular, stand-up call when they need it for the day. We end up doing it once or twice a week.
We also realized we lost some of the team-bonding effect, from the times we did it in person. Right now we have a water-cooler channel, and weekly 1:1s where we also update each other on our lives outside of work. To be honest, I feel we didn't really solve this. In person interaction has a different vibe, and we all miss it sometimes.
Here are a few useful resources if you are willing do dig more into this.
- Why we replaced our stand-ups with a robot — Zapier, which is a full remote company, tells how they did kind of the same thing, implementing a slack bot for their stand-ups.
- Stand-ups for Agile Teams — Atlassian does a bit of everything! Based on the team you are in, you might have in-person standups, remote stand-ups in call, or async stand-ups. It's an interesting perspective.
- Effective Remote Team Stand-ups — The founder of StatusHero gives his own tips about the topic, which led him to build the tool in the first place!
These articles helped us forming an opinion about the topic, and ultimately deciding to give it a try. I am glad we did.
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