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Optimizing remote daily scrum meetings

Why care about optimizing meetings?

Meetings are a really important part of our job, thus having good meetings is something we must care about. How many times have you felt a meeting is not being as effective as you can think of? It's likely that the average employee spends approximately 30% of his or her working time in meetings. Because so much time is spent in meetings, it is vital that we ensure they are well-organized, planned, and beneficial for all the participants, or at least be conscious about that.

A well-organized meeting also has a huge impact on the success of a team. Meetings in general help in strengthening interpersonal bonds, improve communication and teamwork, increase team morale and satisfaction, and boost productivity. Now that I mention this, can you think of any reasons not to invest time on making your meetings better?

Our MVP in terms of meetings is the daily standup (aka daily scrum meeting). For those who don't know what it really is, let me explain it briefly. Daily standups are everyday meetings supposed to take between 5 and 15 minutes with all the team. It's supposed to have all participants standing up since it helps to remind people to keep the meeting short and to-the-point (this explains its name). The dynamic is pretty simple, all the participants will share their updates one-by-one to the rest of the team until all had spoken. The peculiarity here is that everyone's update must answer the following three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday that helped the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  2. What will you do today to help the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  3. Do you see any impediment that prevents you or the Development Team from meeting the Sprint Goal?

This is basically all you need at this point to understand what I'm talking about, however, if you want to learn more about it I suggest considering the Scrum guide, look for Daily Scrum on page 12 to get more info about this in particular.

There are many factors that can affect daily standups to be effective and relevant to the whole team. Meetings have challenges by themselves but they get empowered when the meeting is scoped to a maximum of 15 minutes total. Some common challenges that you may be thinking right now might be the arrival on time of all participants, the lack of concentration, the engagement, the self-organization, and many more... but now think about the remote daily standups. Can you think of any other challenge in this context?

Unfortunately, there many new hazards that appear when it comes to remote daily calls. Why? Basically, you have all the same kind of issues I shared before plus others like internet connection, issues with the browser, lack of attention- if the camera is off you'll never notice it, lack of tracking, people always speaking at last, etc. However, not all of this is necessarily bad and in fact, you can tackle many of them and take advantage of remote meetings.

Our approach to making meetings better

A few weeks ago, right before the VueConfUs2019 - which was awesome and I strongly recommend - we identified some aspects of our remote daily standups that we could have been doing better so far. We kind of identified 3 main areas:

  • Time wasting
  • Participants' feeling
  • Traceability

So what was left at that point was to find a way to solve (at least minimize) these concerns. We decided to build a web extension that we called whosNext.

The extension is pretty simple, everything starts when it detects a new Google Hangouts Meet call is started. All the people within the same call is being displayed in real time on the web extension and is visible by everyone. When someone at the call decides it's time to start sharing their updates, the extensions sorts in which order each one must speak. This simple action covers the 3 main areas.

By assigning a random order to each speaker:

  1. we guarantee the time for asking "who wants to go next?" or for "deciding which should be the next person" gets reduced to zero so there is no waste of time.
  2. we smooth the feeling of "being always the last person to talk" or the extroverted personality of those that always want to go first. We think that everyone deserves to be the first sometime and this works perfectly well together.

But the extension has more power. We also decided to add the capability to reflect when you are done and automatically invite the next participant to start talking. This is great because allows you:

  1. to keep track of how much time you have consumed and be aware of the rest of the team, which is as important as you are.

How it looks:

I hope this post helps you in taking a moment to think and analyze your position towards remote meetings and meetings in general. It's great to take some action and suggest changes if you feel you can do something better, no matter what it is. It's important to bear in mind that a suggestion doesn't mean you will change all the meetings from one day to the other, in fact, that's something I don't recommend at all. However, you can do baby steps by trying minor changes and evaluating how they perform. Once you have a verdict, you can decide to incorporate it or just discard and try a new one.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about what you have done to make your meetings better.

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