Stand-up the TPC-way Part 2

12 October 2020

Lean Six Sigma

Innovation and reflection

When on March 17, 2020, everyone was advised to work from home, our operational structure suddenly fell apart in one fell swoop. As you might know by now, we are a so-called edutech-startup, a developer of e-learning courses. But as well-versed as we are in traversing the digital landscape, ironically we were not prepared for exclusively working online. In part, this was actually because of our daily stand-up. Our philosophy has always been to keep things simple, which unconsciously led to an almost exclusively analog method of working. All of the customer questions, vacation times and reminders were found on our stand-up board. This had always worked great, provided that the majority of the team worked from the office.

The first few weeks of the corona lockdown were chaotic, but halfway through April things had calmed down a little. By then it had become time to start looking ahead again. The first thing our team tried to pick up again was our stand-up, which we tried to do with our online Trello board. Using Trello and Skype, we held our daily virtual stand-up every day. But it just wasn’t the same, and it didn’t appear to work as well. Resuming the daily communication this way helped, but we had built up such a well-oiled machine that the online version simply couldn’t hold up to our standards. So instead, we continued to work on without a daily stand-up, much like most companies do.

By now, most of us are back at the office, and we have since re-evaluated our operations. The coming months however, we are faced with three challenges:

  • How can we use the stand-up to remind us of our yearly organizational objectives?
  • Soon our team will grow from 8 to 11 members. What can we do to adjust to this?
  • How can we digitalize our stand-up without any loss of effectiveness?

Annual objectives and the stand-up
In December 2019 we made our annual plan for 2020. We applied the techniques of the Scaling up company, which helped us give our plan structure and focus. The challenge in setting up an annual plan is not as much to think of one, but to hold yourselves to it for 365 days. Naturally, we would like to use our stand-up to facilitate this. To do this, we have decided to split up our stand-up into two separate events. One at 11:45 and one at 17:15.

The former will be the same as always, in which we mainly discuss our tasks and activities over the coming 24 hours. However, the latter at 17:15 will become a moment of daily reflection. On the left side of our stand-up board we will place our annual objectices, KPIs and large projects (Epics). Depending on the necessity we will also update our statistics once per week. On Friday we will discuss our weekly statistics and once per month, during a sprintplanning, we will discuss our monthly statistics. On the right side of the board we will place four questions that we must answer at the end of the day, which can lead to new actions and tasks.

These questions are as follows:

  1. Is there anything we can improve to the way we work?
  2. Did we receive any customer questions or complaints? If so, place them on our pareto board.
  3. Have we had any technical issues?
  4. Did anything happen today that we would like to communicate on social media?

Aside from these questions, the facilitator will also ask two additional questions, namely “Will we finish our planned tasks in time?” and “Have we completed our 5S tasks?”.

Doing this second stand-up at 17:15 has multiple advantages. Not only is it a way to formally end the working day, it also serves as a signal for colleagues to finish their office management tasks and review their time management. Additionally, it allows us to take the time to discuss possible improvements. We don’t immediately formulate how to improve things (we do this during the morning stand-up), but merely discuss any issues that come to mind. This way we can keep a grip on our quality and continuously improve the way we work.

Team growth and the stand-up
In the coming month, our team will grow from 8 to 11 team members. Almost unanimously, the theory on stand-ups states that you shouldn’t do a stand-up with more than 7 participants. A simple rule to follow in theory, but how do you break up a team of 11 people? Every solution I can think of will lead to a loss in communication, but also don’t see any other option than to split the team. In order to limit this loss in communication, we will instead change the lay-out of our office. Colleagues will be distributed across desk islands in such a way that they will sit with members of the ‘other team’ as well, keeping communication lines between the two teams as short as possible, despite the two separate stand-ups.

The advantage here is that each stand-up will stay limited to 5 or 6 participants. This will keep our stand-up short and allow for more personal attention to be given to everyone. We’ll let you know how this turns out in a follow-up article.

Digitalization and the stand-up
And finally, the digitalization of work. What have we learned about working from home and how can we integrate the possibility for digital stand-ups into our way of working? Our take is that digitalizing our operations will only make sense if it truly adds something extra. No matter how used we are to our phones and tables, writing on a post-it note with a marker is still the easiest. Our ideal solution is having a digital board that doubles as a whiteboard. This will allow us to keep working with post-its, but will also allow those working from home to participate at a distance. Google might have a solution for us; a Jam board. Unfortunately these are rather pricy, so it would be quite the investment for a humble little start-up such as ours.

Another option we are contemplating is Miro. Miro is an online whiteboard with a flexible structure that you can design yourself. This would certainly make distance working easier, but whether or not it is more effective than a physical board is still the question.

We are very curious to see how things will work out, and will definitely keep you updated on all of these exciting changes as they occur. Do you have any questions? Would you like to come visit? Do you have any advice? Let me know! We’re called The Productivity Company because we’re passionate about working as productively as possible, so anything that helps us do that is always more than welcome.

-Tom Lindsen
The Productivity Company

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