Text based stand-ups

By Deyan Dobrinov

Have you ever wondered what is the point of those morning meetings, called “stand-ups”, which almost every software company in the world has?

Well I did…

My name is Deyan Dobrinov and I am a software developer who had a huge problem with them.

Why?

By design those meetings should be quick (less than 15 minutes), but it often takes more time. This is usually happening because people get into details which are not important to all participants.

“I reviewed a few pull requests” proves that you have done some work yesterday, but it does not mean anything nor it is useful to anyone. The same happens if someone is speaking about a task that is not familiar to everyone.

In theory the “stand-up” is designed to serve as a catch-up for the members of a team, where they can share their progress on tasks and available blockers. In practice, the only one who benefits from it is the manager/lead. For the rest this is just 10–20 minutes (and sometimes even more) of wasted time.

As a lead of a small team I had the freedom to choose my own format for those meetings. I analysed the value which they bring to their participants (based on their role) and as a result I decided to turn them into text. Here are some of the main benefits:

Try it out! You are going to present the information differently and better. Having a good structure and some context will increase the chances that your update will make sense to other people.

If you get into details which concern only one of the participants of a meeting, your are basically wasting the time of the rest. If your update is in a text form they can just ignore those details.

Having a plan will keep your focused. This will help you resist distractions and you will allocate your time on tasks with higher impact.

OK, it will probably take you more time to leave a text update than a verbal one, but it will still be less than the duration of a regular “stand-up” meeting.

If you have been working with people from different time zones you know that sometimes it is difficult to find a suitable spot for a “stand-up” meeting. If the updates are text based this is no more a problem, since everybody can leave an update as soon as they become available.

Usually the team manager is the one who takes notes on those meetings. If the information is in a text form at first place this is no longer necessary. Those notes will be available to anyone who needs them. They will be also there for longer.

We started using Slack as tool for the distribution of those updates. We had a team channel where each of us was posting a message in the beginning of the day with the following structure:

A list of items, which are completed and usable by the customer (whoever he is). A rule here is that the updates should be understandable by anyone in the company. To achieve this we always start with an introduction (non technical) to the problem which we solved, followed by the solution which we delivered.

Here we list all ongoing tasks and give information about their status. Updates like “I am working on feature X” every day for one week are not really useful. We try to provide more detailed information on the progress which was made.

In this section each team member presents what will be his focus for the day and in what order he is planning to approach his tasks.

Here we list the tasks on which we cannot work for some reason. It is very important to give enough information. Usually the manager of the team is the person who should help with the unblocking, so this helps to communicate better with him that help might be needed.

This is a section for all kind of announcements. It is mostly used for updates like “I will be off on Monday” or “I will be working until 3PM today”.

Here is how the end result looked like.

A morning text update in Slack

We have been working for several months like this, but Slack had two main problems:

It was hard for some people to switch and they were writing updates in their own format. I wanted to have a common one for everyone.

We were using the channel where the updates were posted for other things as well, so there were other messages in between the updates. I am usually compiling a delivery report for my team every Monday and it was quite annoying to look for the correct updates to include in.

In order to address those problems I decided to create Textstandup - a web application for text based stand-ups. It lets you post updates and subscribe to the people from your organisation whom’s updates you would like to read. It also has Slack integration.

A morning text update in www.textstandup.com

I am using it for a few weeks now and I am constantly improving it so your feedback will be highly appreciated.

What do you think about this? Have you identified this as a problem or the regular stand-up format works well for you?