Spice up your Daily Standup! Walking the board with a Conductor

By Ivan Manzanas

Agile methodologies (such as SCRUM or Kanban) have Inspect and Adapt loops as one of their core ideas. One of the smallest formal representations is the ceremony known as the Daily Standup. In this article, the concept of “rotating servant-leadership” in this context will be introduced.

In this ceremony, most of you have probably used the well-known “3 questions format”: 

What did you do yesterday? 

What will you do today? 

Are there any impediments in your way?

This format works well for many teams, but sometimes anti-patterns appear: feeling like it is a reporting session, disengagement of individuals when they are not the ones answering these questions, boredom because it feels like items are not moving forward, or lack of spirit of comradery or support.

Luckily, some talented people before us came up with an alternative format, known as “walking the board” or “story-focused stand-up“.

How does it work?

In our experience and context, this format is much more effective at fostering a shared feeling of ownership for every item on the board by enabling the team to focus on how to collectively solve  issues that get in their way.

Still, there was (and always is) some room for kaizen. We regularly wrestle with multiple conversations happening at the same time. Sometimes people feel tempted to move “their” items by themselves even during the meeting, which can create a lot of noise. To improve the team’s focus we have introduced the role of the conductor.

The Conductor Role

Just like an orchestra has only one conductor, in this format of Daily Standup, the same principle is followed: each day a different member of the team assumes this role. They lead the standup, going through all of the items on the board – starting on the right-most column closer to DONE, moving from top to bottom (following priority), applying the steps below:

1.- points to the board item

2.- reads out loud the title/description

3.- ASKS the team about its status and if any blockers are in the way and how to go about solving it as a team.

4.- writes down any daily action required to unblock those items.

So there’s one very important observation here: the conductor doesn’t need to know all the details of everything: as mentioned in point 3, she or he doesn’t provide answers or solutions, doesn’t assign tasks; only ASKS the team and reflects the daily plan to solve blockers.

Lastly, in order to avoid the Daily Standup turning into a reporting session, the team leadership roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Tech lead if appointed…), are kindly suggested not to take the role and let others lead.

Bonus point:

In our case we also made a list of team members that take turns sequentially taking the role. This way we even avoid the mental power required to remember who conducted yesterday and decide who can do it today.

In summary, this format of Daily Standup is an example of rotating servant-leadership: each day, a different conductor helps the rest of the team to organize themselves, providing a focus on how to collectively move work items forward, according to the previously agreed priorities.

Give it a try, you won’t regret it!