Sprucing up our stand ups

A glass wall with a pieces of paper and post-it notes stuck to it in rows and columns
The wall in the room where we hold our stand ups

I’m still pretty new at Brighton & Hove City Council- only a few weeks into the job. I was excited when I found out that the Digital First team have daily stand ups.

I’ve worked for organisations where daily get-togethers are like part of the furniture – essential, comfortable and helped everyone know where they stood (or sat).

So I was thrilled to see that the council ran daily stand ups too. Also that the folks here believe in constant improvement. It’s always worth revisiting what you do from time to time just to check it’s working.

A few weeks ago we decided to look at our daily stand ups and the kanban wall (a glass wall with tasks we’re working on) that supports them.

There was a general feeling that stand ups were drifting a little, and that work wasn’t getting completed as fast as we would like. Also it wasn’t clear looking at a card how big the task it described was, or who owned it.

How we’re changing our stand ups

We decided to make a few changes. First I knocked up a new card design with T-shirt sizes (S, M, L and XL) for tasks so we’ve got a better idea of what we’re letting ourselves in for.

Original sketch
Original sketch


The new card we're using
The new card we’re using

I’ve worked in teams that spend a long time estimating work before starting, and didn’t want to go down that route. Instead we decide on a S, M, L or XL quickly and either revisit the size or scope if the task is taking longer than expected.

Next, we’re keeping a much closer eye on work that’s blocked – how long and why. We’ve been using shocking pink post-it notes to label this so it’s hard to miss a job that’s ground to a halt. We’re also marking cards for blocked tasks using a tally. Adding a mark to a card in the stand up each time it’s blocked so it’s quick to see how long something has stalled for.

We’ve also switched the frequency of stand ups. We used to have them every day, but found that daily communication isn’t essential at the moment. Instead we’re trying twice weekly stand ups on Tuesdays and Thursdays – people get to know what’s going on, but time is freed up to get work done. As we break down work into smaller, more shippable chunks, we’ll likely switch back to daily get-togethers.

Finally we’ve changed the invite list. Anyone is welcome to attend (it’s an open house), but card owners (the leads for each task) must turn up. We’ve found that conversations need to happen twice a week or projects drift. Also Ali (our Head of Digital Transformation) and I need to know about blockers so we can help. Having fewer people in each stand up has made things more manageable, and sessions are generally shorter – always good!

We believe in constant improvement

There’s plenty more we’re thinking about. We intend to refresh Jira, our online project management tool, soon so it’s easier to find detail on any task, and keep our online wall in Jira and the offline wall (in the project room), in sync.

We’re also thinking about having swim lanes – grouping the cards for different services Cityclean, Adult Social Care and so on – as we start to dive into the detail. We may run separate stand ups for each one. More to follow in a future blog post.

I don’t think this is a purist’s way of running a stand up or a kanban, rather a few things that seem to work for us. I tend to mix and match ideas I’ve picked up in previous jobs and also suggestions from the team. If you have any pointers, we’d love to hear them.