When building a startup, time is your enemy. It’s a race to find product-market fit and get your unit economics working, before you run out of money.
Every day lost is a day you won’t get back. You have to strive to “move the ball forward” each and every day. This requires an attitude of hustle and scrappiness that is often described as “GSD” (Get Shit Done).
The Daily Standup Meeting (aka “DSU”) is where the rubber meets the road - it’s where you as Founder/CXO rally your whole (small) team and keep them focused on the most important things.
Who is this for?
Founder/CXOs at early stage startups. Particularly, people who may not have worked in environments where a daily standup meeting is the norm.
Daily Standup Meetings are called “standups” because people traditionally stand rather than sit. The idea being that it’s a short and focused meeting, not a sit down discussion of bigger issues.
Daily Standups are common in product and engineering organizations, and are a key part of the agile software development movement.
In the early stages (up to 20ish people), my strong recommendation is that you have a standup meeting every day with your entire team. Standup is not just about engineering and product.
(At Wonolo, we had Daily Standup every day with the whole company until the company was well over 100 people, and then we still had it twice a week.)
Having everyone together helps reinforce that you are one team and that everything is linked.
Part of the objective is to kick every day off with a burst of focused energy. I strongly recommend you have daily standup first thing in the morning, time-zones permitting. 9:15am PT can be a great time because people on the east coast can join at lunch time.
Having DSU first thing means that everyone is present and in “work mode”.
Not everyone will like it - but that’s kind of the point. In my experience, some people will gradually slide into a pattern of rolling/logging in at 11am-ish, unless outside structure is imposed. Others will push back against having it daily, thinking it’s an overkill. It’s not.
At a previous company, I used to have a sign above the big TV we used for DSU every day that said:
If you’re early, you’re on time.
If you’re on time, you’re late.
If you’re late, you’re dead.”
DSU should be short and focused. I recommend that it’s scheduled for 15 minutes but that you do it at a time where you have the option to go longer (up to 30 minutes). For this reason, 9:15am and 9:30am are great times; 9:45am is not.
Focus on Alignment and Clarity
In addition to getting everyone into “work mode” every day, the primary purpose of Daily Standup is to make sure that everyone is aligned and clear on what needs to get done.
Drift is expensive; it burns time. You need everyone pulling together in the same direction, every day. The more frequently you pull everyone together and get them aligned, the less time there is for drift to develop.
Repetition is Not Always Bad
Your team is going to be handling all sorts of tasks of various kinds. It’s your job to help them see the forest for the trees.
I recommend you start or end each standup by reminding the team what the current objective is. This helps people always make sure they are spending time only on those things which most contribute to that objective.
DSU should not be used to review metrics in depth. However, it is a great opportunity to show your “one number” that tracks progress, whatever that metric currently is. e.g. daily revenue. Again, this helps focus people on the most important thing and gives critical big-picture context to the work they will be doing in the weeds.
A Kanban board (or boards) forms a great basis of your DSU.
Review tickets from right to left - i.e. things that are closest to being done first.
You may not have time to review all tickets on your Kanban board every day. That’s ok. What you’re trying to identify and discuss are tickets that are problematic in some way.
e.g. they’re taking longer than expected, and/or the person doing the work is blocked, or needs help.
It is these problems and blocks that should be surfaced at DSU. However, you won’t have time to necessarily solve the problem.
While DSU shouldn’t be about “public shaming”, your role as leader is to ask questions and nudge:
“This seems to be taking a long time; is there a problem? Do you need help?”
“Is this one blocked by something else?”
“Is the objective of this ticket clear?”
“Are we making this more complicated than it needs to be?”
“Can the two of you take this one offline and come up with a solution?”
Example DSU content
- Any urgent announcements / housekeeping (1 min)
- Show chart of one top metric (1 min)
- Review Kanban board right to left, identifying any blockers or problematic tickets, and getting the people doing the work to agree to resolve the issue that day (12 mins)
- Final thought / rallying call - “let’s make sure we stay focused on X…” (1 min)
Daily Standup “Anti-Patterns”
These are the two most common things to avoid in DSU:
- Getting into the weeds on particular tasks / “rat-holing”. DSU is not the place to resolve an issue, unless it can be done in < 30 seconds. DSU is about identifying problems, blocks, and ambiguities and getting commitment that the people involved will work outside of DSU to resolve the issues that day.
- Thinking everyone has to talk. One style of DSU that I see is to go around the room and have every person on the team talk about what they’re working on. In my opinion, this is an anti-pattern. While it’s important that you as leader make everyone feel included, this is not what DSU is for. If a team member is happily getting stuff done and has no blocks, issues, or questions, that person doesn’t need to say anything. Their contribution should be recognized elsewhere. DSU is about identifying problems and moving the ball forward as fast as possible.