Text Standups

4 minute read

A standup meeting, intended in the agile sense, is a common practice of many effective teams, as it provides shared daily situational awareness.

Standups can be translated very effectively to remote work by using video calls. However, there’s a very effective alternative that allows for the practice to become asynchronous, which makes it more suited for both remote working and teams spread across different timezones.

The difference? A text standup is done by text, usually in the chat tool your team uses (Slack, Skype, Teams, etc). It seems a small change, but it has some beneficial effects, especially for remote work.

The Basics

A text standup is done first thing daily when someone connects to work. We open our team channel, and in its simplest form, we write briefly the answer to the classic questions:

  • What have you done yesterday?
  • What are you doing today?
  • Is there any blocker?

For a remote team, this is very valuable because it marks the moment the person is online and available. It also makes the person feel more present, and opens everyone to possible questions and collaborations.

A Refined Version

In my team Slack channel we have automated this process with Geekbot, which asks cleanly the questions in a nicely formatted way, and also allows for some nice data aggregation. One useful feature can specify which questions to ask when, something that adds some extra benefits by providing variability.

Here’s what we ask:

  • How do you feel today?
  • What did you do the previous work day?
  • What are you aiming to do today?
  • Anything blocking your progress?
  • Anything personal you’d like to share? (every Mon, Wed, Fri)
  • What’s the highlight of the past week or so? (every Mon)

How do you feel today? — This is a dropdown, and contains three answer: “Green”, “Yellow”, and “Red”. This is important because it restores a general awareness. It’s the equivalent of seeing someone walking in the office with a tired expression, and you can ask what happened. Similarly, you see a “Red”, and you can ask.

It must be clear here that the goal isn’t to get everyone “green”, the goal is to have everyone safe so they feel ok in saying “Red”. For this reason, every team will have their own internal status: a team that is often yellow might be actually feeling better than a team always green.

Also, this refers to the personal overall status. The answer shouldn’t be work related, even if of course work has an impact. If it happens I haven’t slept that night, the next day I’ll be “Red”, but it’s not because work is not good.

Notice also we designed some custom Slack emojis because we wanted a quick visual reference, but also not being emphasizing the face too much, and at the same time we wanted to avoid extra emotional connotation (i.e. most “red” icons are angry, and that’s not what we mean). Feel free to grab the emojis from here:

What did you do the previous work day? — This changes from “yesterday” because the bot can’t recognize if “yesterday” the person was working, if it was Sunday, etc. So being more generic avoids some eyes rolling about “yesterday” (and yes sometimes it was me writing snark).

What are you aiming to do today? — People often feel stressed in writing down plans, because it makes them feel bad if they don’t achieve all they wrote. Changing the wording to “aiming to” makes it more a reflection on plans, and allows to be more open and less conservative. Remember that the mismatch between one day plan and the next day outcome is good for reflection, so it’s not just ok, but encouraged to see mismatches.

Anything blocking your progress? — This is useful for support. If there are blockers, who can help among both peers and lead? These don’t have to be major things, could also be things that just delayed the work.

Anything personal you’d like to share? — This provide a moment for the person to add something about them, not strictly work related. We suggest to avoid doing this every day because frankly it’s too much and becomes weird… triggering some fun answers sometimes. Find the frequency that works for your team.

What’s the highlight of the past week or so? — This aims to get one positive highlight the person had about the past 7 days. It’s a good morale booster, a good reflection, and a good highlight on what they feel it’s important. Again the timeframe is not too specific.

It seems a lot, but the idea is that a text standup should be as quick as a normal standup: it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes, and ideally take just 1-2 minutes.

Remember that everyone in the team should see the value in this. If not, tweak the questions until you find the right mix, and keep tweaking because the team changes over time, and what worked yesterday might not work well tomorrow.

If you want to try and you use Slack, give Geekbot a try, it’s very easy to sign in with your Slack account and configure it.