Stand-Up Meeting

Alias: DailyMeeting

StandUpMeeting.jpg


...a project is in the early architecture stage, a period of high stress, or a period of quick change. Or it might just be a period of high stakes, even though you don't expect things to change rapidly--but change must be dealt with responsively, as during the end game.

✥ ✥ ✥
At times of fast change or high stress, it is essential that all members of the organization receive the same information.
When a project is changing quickly, information gets out of date almost instantly. People must have the latest information, or else they risk making obsolete or incorrect decisions. Early in a project; during initial architecture, decisions are made that have lasting impact on the product. These decisions tend to be based on incomplete information; on assumptions which must be validated with others. Because these architectural decisions tend to build on each other, an early incorrect assumption can cause significant directional errors.

At times, the change is dictated by stress or a crisis. Crisis management demands quick response. But quick response demands a coordinated effort--things can go terribly wrong if people don't have the latest information. Architects as well as individual developers can develop tunnel vision, and the low-level decisions can be just as important as the more visible "architectural" ones. As Ed Yourdon said, all things are deeply interwingled. Interdependencies affect both the long-term integrity of the product functionality and structure, as well as the smooth day-to-day functioning of a team that has a shared vision.

Some organizations simply operate at a high change velocity. This requires very tight communication coupling, or else chaos ensues. The most productive organizations we have seen operate this way, although this not their only distinguishing characteristic.

Yet in all these cases, because the need for communication is high, the communication overhead will also be high. And this overhead detracts from the very thing you are trying to accomplish. How can you balance this?

Therefore:

Hold short daily meetings with the entire team to exchange critical information, update status, and/or make assignments. The meetings should last no more than 15 minutes, and generally happen first thing in the morning.

The focus of the meetings is on the technical progress in the architecture and the work plan. Obviously, these work best with small teams comprising mostly developers and architects. If the project is too large for a single meeting, sub-teams may meet instead. The project is probably already partitioned appropriately. However, the StandUpMeeting is as much an opportunity to revisit the organizational structure as to revisit the system architecture, after ConwaysLaw. For this reason--and because resource reallocation is also a concern in these meetings--regular management presence at these meetings is also important.

Early in the project, these meetings may be held for the purpose of reviewing the architecture. Architectural decisions may be examined, tweaked, and re-reviewed very quickly. If the architecture team is "sequestered" with LockEmUpTogether, the daily reviews can be used as a sanity check, and to allow them to come up for air. Or it can be used instead of LockEmUpTogether, if the team prefers. Near the end of the delivery cycle, these meetings can keep the team focused on the delivery, and they can help the project to shift assignments quickly to meet project needs. Near the beginning of a project, the code changes quickly; near the end, you may want to be able to shift assignments quickly as the product starts to move toward the shipping dock and out the door, and roles may shift accordingly (developers become testers, connections with beta sites intensify, etc.)

Such meetings can be used for other technical decisions as well. One team reported having meetings almost daily with human factors engineers and SurrogateCustomers as part of an iterative approach to user interface design.

✥ ✥ ✥
Other daily meetings are used for status and assignments. Beedle et al. describe these as "SCRUM" Meetings [BibRef-Beedle1999, 644-649], daily meetings to report progress, make assignments, and re-plan if necessary [BibRef-Rising2000, 147]:

To control an empirical and unpredictable development process, meet with the team in a short daily meeting where participants say: (1) what they have done since the last meeting, (2) what roadblocks were encountered, and (3) what they will be doing until the next meeting.

SCRUM meetings mention technical issues as forces, but provide only project management solutions. A StandUpMeeting deals with all these issues as inseparable, but its first focus is on the most volatile element of change and the project component closest to the largest numbers of technical staff: the artifact being delivered to the customer.

This is reiterated almost exactly in Extreme Programming [BibRef-Beck1999]. In the Borland Quattro Pro For Windows project [BibRef-Coplien1994b], the architecture team met in the morning to socialize problems from the previous day. The system was updated to reflect the meeting decisions and implementation and testing proceeded the remainder of the day in preparation for the next morning's meeting.

This is similar to the meetings held at the beginning of every shift in hospitals and police stations. ("... be careful out there...") Note, though, that in these cases, there is an explicit hand off of work from one shift to the next. It might exactly match meetings of the postulated international software teams, where teams in different locations in the world take advantage of time zones, and work on a piece of software 24 hours a day. However, the authors are unaware of any team where this has actually worked (and see, for example, Architecture--and OrganizationFollowsLocation.)

A short daily meeting is an efficient way of transmitting information to the entire team with the minimum communication overhead. This helps overcome some of the tunnel vision problems that can come from CodeOwnership.

Beyond the benefits of communication, it has a salutary effect on morale. It is a slightly institutionalized form of HallwayChatter, while being an informal form of GroupValidation, and helps maintain UnityOfPurpose.

But there is a potential danger with such meetings. In some organizations, particularly where such tight communication is not the norm, daily meetings are instituted in response to a crisis. While the meetings give morale a temporary lift, they are subject to -- and contribute to -- burnout. Conversely, one must be careful that the purpose of regular daily meetings is to exchange information, and not to create an artificial crisis mentality in order to elevate performance. Such a purpose is not only unsustainable, it is a little bit dishonest.

When should the meeting take place? In California shops, where people can wander into work any time from 8:00 A.M. until noon, you want to schedule the meeting carefully.

Use MercenaryAnalysts to make a record of the fast-paced changing decisions.

Ward Cunningham's Episodes pattern language [BibRef-Cunningham1996] suggests weekly, personal interviews over the full meeting format. The pattern WorkQueueReport suggests "Collect status in regular personal interviews conducted at weekly intervals. Solicit days of remaining effort estimates using contrasts with Comparable Work." It presents the following example:

"I put two full days into the new tax calculations, and one day with Joe on his U/I."

"How many uninterrupted days do you think you need to finish the calculations?"

"Oh, say two. It's no different from the accruals."

"And, working with Joe?"

"Well, we didn't get to the real work. I had three down last week? Must still be three days."

Ward then goes on to say:

Use these estimates along with individual dilution factors (how many uninterrupted days of development does the individual have access to a week) to predict elapsed days to completion for each assigned deliverable. Compute and publish CompletionHeadroom from this data. Include a cover page with a few sentences explaining numbers that might have shifted in an interesting way.

This pattern derives from the above citations as well as from ReviewTheArchitecture [BibRef-Coplien1995]. Luke Hohmann's input in particular is greatly appreciated.