Improving Our Stand-ups

Our stand-ups in the Order Management team were taking too long and felt more like drudgery than like an actual benefit of the agile software methodology. One problem is that we had four teams all joined together for a single stand-up. This was mostly because we were all part of a bigger team that shared code and concerns and partly because our team manager could not join four concurrent standups.

We broke the teams up into separate stand-ups, but we did have to change how we handled the stand-ups and how we could keep it inclusive for everyone.

A Little History

I was lucky enough to join the Order Management team when we were a small rag-tag group of developers and product managers, probably 9 people in total. Since that time, I watched the team grow to over 20 people. It allowed us to tackle many more interesting problems, but it also introduced a daily bottleneck. Our short and sweet stand-ups turned into 30-minute slogs where the developers talked about their daily to-dos, and the product managers could choose to be chickens or pigs depending on the day’s needs. As a developer, I stared at my feet until it was my turn to go. Of course I’m exaggerating here, but this is the ultimate result if we let it continue.

In a past role, I worked remotely and we used to do stand-ups in hipchat, with follow-up conversations in the stand-up channel. We use Slack at Jet, and I wanted to see if the same experience would translate well to an office environment. Hipchat has a built-in stand-up bot, and slack has some great options available. However, I wanted something internal that didn’t require any extra hosting requirements and doesn’t require us to share our daily stand-ups through a third-party service. For us the answer was clear. Our manager, Jeremy Kimball, wrote the slackbot for the Order Management team, so we extended it to behave close to the hipchat bot. The only difference is that it is hosted in Azure and it’s all ours. 🙂

Gambot standup for …

We have four teams now in Order Processing: Customer Service Management, Order Operations, Task Pipeline Support, and Order Processing core. Gambot listens to slack messages directed at gambot. We wanted the feature to be open to any team or group, so writing,

gambot standup for [teamname] [your standup for today]

will create an entry in Azure Table Storage with your Slack user name, team name and stand-up message for the day.

entering a stand-up

Just writing gambot standup for [teamname] will print out a summary of the team’s stand-up.

getting the stand-up summary

Initial Results

We tried this first with my team, Task Pipeline Support. After just one sprint, we found that having all of the stand-up communication online wasn’t working out. It works great when everyone is remote and the follow-up conversations continue online. However, in an office setting, people communicate better face-to-face. Without that connection, the team morale dropped, and there was less of a sense of purpose. Thankfully, we’re doing agile development, and we caught this right away during our retrospective. What we did next will amaze you! 🙂

Team Huddles

I still felt that the stand-up should be online and asynchronous. I wasn’t ready to give up on that. What we did on the first day of the next sprint was to re-introduce the group huddle but only to discuss blockers. And, that was what we were missing! As an engineer, have you ever been in a meeting where someone from the business side casually mentions some super insightful nugget of information? This is what it was like for everyone, tech and biz alike.

The conversation around our tight circle of a team turned from a boring status meeting to a very engaging and productive discussion of the day’s business needs. As the technical lead, I was more engaged with each person as he or she spoke. Our product managers use the huddle as an opportunity to discuss blockers and any external business pressure that might affect our team in the near-term.

Summary, and Extending This to Other Teams

Since we rolled out the gambot standup for ... feature, we extended the use of it to the other teams in the Order Processing family. For the team managers, the benefit is that they can see what is happening across teams on their own time. For us, the daily users, we can participate in stand-up while on the train, before leaving the house, or even at the office. We just make it a point to get our notes in before the daily huddle. For the Task Pipeline Support team, that’s around 11am. I feel like our huddles are ten times more productive than they ever were and that they actually address what matters to us.

I hope that this experiment in process helps you improve your daily stand-up routine. If you would like to participate in our crafty little huddles, take a look at our open front-end and back-end positions, or any of the open positions at Jet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *