Stand-up the TPC-way

12 October 2020

Lean Six Sigma

The Productivity Company is a typical start-up. We are a fast-growing company with an innovative product and a young team. At our office, so many things change every month that change is really the only true constant here. The challenge is to communicate effectively and create a clear structure with which to face the chaos. Our answer? The Stand-up.

“It’s all been thought of and done before. You just have to have to discipline to put it into practice.”

Two years ago, when we first started growing, I found myself bombarded with a multitude of difficult questions. How do you manage a team? What level of personal freedom is ideal? How much communication is necessary? How do we prevent mistakes? How do we handle customer questions? How do we keep an overview of our projects? How do we maintain our office? Eventually I realized that “It’s all been thought of and done before. You just have to have the discipline to put it into practice.” So as a team we then started working on the thing we all felt we needed the most, which was a solid communication structure.

From 2 questions in 1 hour to 7 in just 15 minutes

It all started with two simple questions, namely: ‘What are you working on the coming 24 hours?’ and ‘What’s holding you back?’. In the early days, the stand-up could take up to an hour, which was a little too long for our liking.

To remedy this, we started using Stand Operating Procedures (SOP). We wrote two; one on how to prepare for the stand-up and one on how to proceed through the now 7 steps of the stand-up. Using these SOPs, we managed to reduce the stand-up to 15 minutes within just two days, and the team quickly got used to this clear and efficient method of communication. It saved us all a lot of time and trouble.

Agile Scrum, Lean Six Sigma and the Stand-up

This went great for a while, but as we kept growing, so did our workload and the number of questions attached. Our next step was to start using Agile Scrum to manage our projects, including the use of sprint plannings and Trello. We needed to start basing our objectives on data, both financially and marketing-wise. We needed to stop solving problems in firefighting mode and start working on continuous improvement to draw out the root causes. And most importantly, we needed to be able to work in peace, without having to answer each other’s questions all day and jump at every ad hoc task asked of us. In conclusion, our stand-up had to evolve. Again.

Stand-up as the centerpiece of our operations

So we set to work. First we integrated our entire operation into the 15 minutes of stand-up. Not an easy feat. We differentiated between planned work (as planned during the sprint planning) and ad hoc work generated through other channels such as emails, customers, discussions, etc. If anyone had a question for a colleague, this now had to be asked during the stand-up, rather than randomly over the course of the day. Exceptions were customer issues and issues of exceptional importance.

This resulted in many small improvement projects (such as rearranging our entire office and implementing 5S to manage the workplace better) and more SOPs, thus creating a clearly standardized working method for the entire team. We now undertook daily actions to make our lives easier. Was someone looking for a file? Then we’d spend 10 minutes on reorganizing our digital file structure. Was the office a mess after lunch? Then we’d refer to our weekly 5S tasks and responsibilities overview.

Despite the fact that we were working with more and more people, and had more and more to discuss, our stand-up was still sitting pretty at 15 minutes. Because even our stand-up SOP was being improved almost every week. The stand-up wasn’t considered a punishment; everyone knew that without our stand-up, we would quickly be drowning in chaos. It had become perhaps the most welcome and vital part of our daily routine.

Everything went swimmingly and we were in full control of our operations. That is, until March 17 2020. Corona….

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