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Distributed Agile Stand-ups: Real Time or Your Own Time?

Asynchronous applications increasingly facilitate stand-up meetings as agile IT teams spread out, but are you losing the magic of actually standing up?

standup meeting

Daily stand-up meetings should take 15 minutes. Ours used to take an hour. Like other distributed IT teams, mine struggled to practice agile without being together or knowing each other well.

Then, magic started happening. Our stand-up meetings became 15 minutes. Once-disjointed PGi employees became cohesive teams, demoing working software every two weeks without fail. My teams didn’t even need me there anymore, and I stopped being fully vested in their projects. I’m now a chicken (and that’s a good thing).

What happened? We turned on our video. We looked at each other. We stood up (including our CIO).

Video stand-up meetings became part of our IT culture at PGi and saved our philosophy of agile from being extinguished by the challenges of remote work. Not every distributed agile IT team is there, yet.

To account for distance, multiple time zones and varying peak hours of personal productivity, asynchronous applications increasingly stand in as alternatives to in-person stand-up meetings on distributed agile IT teams. Asynchronous stand-up meetings may very well be the best option for sustaining this agile practice on some unique teams, but, like other workers, many IT teams rest on asynchronous communication because it’s easier, not better.

There really is no wrong way to do a stand-up meeting, but there are pros and cons to performing stand-up meetings on your own time instead of real time.

The Downsides of Asynchronous Stand-up Meetings

1.     Trust doesn’t come quickly or easily. I firmly believe you can’t truly build trust if you can’t look someone in the eye. It’s a lot easier for teams to skirt around an issue, tell a white lie or embellish when they’re looking at a computer instead of a human being.For agile to work, you must be able to empower your team to collaborate and make decisions independently by trusting them, and that takes time to develop, especially virtually. In the meantime, while I’m waiting for them to prove their reliability and accountability by repeatedly getting the job done, I want to see faces when I ask about accomplishments, tasks and obstacles.

2.     Miscommunication blossoms over text-only communication. There’s a reason face-to-face meetings are still a cornerstone of collaboration, professional relationship building and agile principles (“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”). Void of humanity, text-only team communication has incredible potential to fall flat because you lose the benefits of face-to-face communication: tone, expressions, body language, etc. Whether you’re hiring, onboarding or introducing employees to new projects and teams, face-to-face communication lays the right foundation for teamwork, culture and trust.

3.     You lose the presence and energy of standing. The other problem with asynchronous stand-up meetings is no one’s actually standing. Instant messaging, email and other asynchronous applications transform the stand-up into a sit-down meeting where everyone participates at their own leisure. Sitting down, it’s too easy for your team to slip into “audience” mode instead of actively participate. It’s too easy to get distracted from behind a screen and to let the conversation go on too long. Remember, the whole point of stand-up meetings is to create a daily moment of hyper attention, energy and focus to encourage rich, peer-to-peer collaboration. Brush the popcorn out of your lap and stand up.

Eliminating the daily stand-up meeting altogether makes it nearly impossible to develop trust. Stand-up meetings, even if done asynchronously, help you mitigate risks early and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

But if your goal is to be faster and more efficient, why wouldn’t you communicate in real time? Video conferencing is quicker to use, better looking and more personalized than ever, and, with the proliferation of unified communication and collaboration, it’s just a click away within your online collaboration software.

Distributed agile IT teams will only multiply, making asynchronous collaboration increasingly important to the future of IT, but we’re not using collaboration tools the way they’re meant to be used by always subbing chat in for video conferencing.

Learn how asynchronous and synchronous collaboration will fit on your distributed agile IT team by downloading our free eBook today, “The Future of Business Collaboration: 2015 Edition.”

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