Goodbye Standups, Hello Wrap-Ups: Rethinking team alignment for asynchronous, remote work
Standups are standard-operating-procedure for most startups. But it’s time to take another look at them in the asynchronous, remote context.
In the startup world, most are no stranger to the “standup meeting”. I mean, in all of my previous startups, we used them, and I’ve rarely talked to teams who don’t. They’re standard issue, a commonplace. Here’s the thing though is that they feel a bit outdated, especially in a remote context. I can’t speak for others, but plenty of times in my past I’d look at my calendar from the day prior and toss out a bunch of random things to sound busy. It was a waste of my time, and certainly everyone else’s.
The proposed goal of a standup is to get alignment within the team, surface potential issues, and help to create a pulse of the work being done in an organization. Oftentimes though they can devolve into being a waste of time, and sometimes even create conflict within a team.
Standups have historically been done as a time-boxed synchronous meeting, with everyone going around and reporting when it’s their turn. The typical standup consists of the following questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- Anything blocking your progress?
Remote work starts to make this all a bit more difficult though. The biggest issue is that people tend to be spread out in different time zones, making the real-time nature of a standup a bit more difficult. Some remote teams may still dial-in to some Zoom meetings in real-time, but I believe remote standups could be more effective if they’re done asynchronously.
But just asking those questions alone, asynchronously, isn’t good enough. New issues can begin to pop up because those questions are being asked asynchronously.
- Posting those responses in an open forum (such as Slack) right as you get your day started can open up a Pandora’s box of responses, which may delay getting work going and getting into a flow
- “Such and such is blocking me” when said in a real-time context is often just fine. But in a text-only context, the nuance can be lost and whoever is on the receiving end of that statement can ruminate, build resentment, and have things entirely misunderstood.
And let’s be honest…how many people *actually* remember what they did yesterday, such that it’s worthwhile reporting?
Based on all of the above, we thought it might be worthwhile to really examine what value the standup provides, and how it might be better tailored for asynchronous, remote teams. We’re calling these “Wrap-ups”, which was inspired by this tweet:
First, “wrap-up” implies that it’s taking place at the end of the day. We believe that moving them to the end of the day helps in a couple of ways:
- What you did today is still fresh in your mind
- If you’re needing some help after you day is done, you can pass the baton on to whomever might be seeing it the next day or someone in a different time zone who might be starting their work when you’re finishing
- You can effectively signal when you’re finished up for the day (this is important since no one can see someone walk out of the office anymore)
In an all-remote, asynchronous team the last part can be critical, especially if the team is global like XMTP will be. Furthermore, even if people are all in the same time zone they may have dramatically different productive hours. While I’m a morning person, and my brain generally turns to mush by 5, a colleague in the same time zone might be just getting into the swing of it by the same time.
Beyond just changing the time that we report to each other, we also realized that the typical questions used for standups aren’t quite adequate for our asynchronous wrap-ups. That’s why we’re trying out something new:
What’s the format?
- What’s worth sharing?
- What needs feedback?
- Who do you need help from?
Let’s dig into why each one of these exists:
What’s worth sharing?
This statement makes it so that you can focus on what actually matters from what you did today, or what you’re going to do tomorrow. It seeks to reduce the pressure of needing to say something, anything.
I can’t begin to count how many times in a standup I heard “same thing I did yesterday” which is honestly just wasting everyone’s time. But by asking “what’s worth sharing?” maybe that individual would be inclined to talk about one particularly interesting development from the day.
Asking the question keeps the format curious, but open for any kind of expression. It also opens a space for someone to share things beyond what’s relevant to their work. For instance “I’m going on vacation tomorrow” very well may be worth sharing, or maybe even how good the meal they cooked last night was. If it’s worth sharing, just share it!
What needs feedback?
Another open-ended question. It can be skipped right past if nothing needs feedback, but it’s an invitation to anyone else on the team to be open with their thoughts and opinions. There may be a design that needs feedback, or a particular pull request, or it might be a new idea that might be mulling about…no matter the purpose, if feedback is valuable, it should be brought up!
Who do you need help from?
“I’m blocked by X, Y, and Z” can sometimes devolve into something that very much sounds like a negative blaming session. That’s rarely productive, especially in an asynchronous environment when things can be easily taken out of context where nuance may be lacking.
“Who do you need help from” totally changes the dynamics of what is effectively the same question. It becomes less about blame, and more about an invitation to progress on something together. It’s a hand reaching out for assistance, rather than a finger pointing at someone.
How will we be sharing our wrap-ups internally?
Precisely how wrap-ups get done internally could be open-ended and use many different tools. Instead of chat apps, at XMTP we use Discourse for most communication. Heck, we even named it “HQ” since it’s the closest thing we have to a physical headquarters. We’re fans of it because asynchronous communication necessitates allowing people to read and write on their time, without a bunch of nagging notifications flying about.
Within our Discourse we have a single thread for posting wrap-ups. Everyone contributes theirs for the day and after two weeks their reply gets deleted. This keeps the thread to just the most useful things. At any point if something is shared within a wrap-up that’s useful to keep discussing, it can easily be moved into its own thread.
One thing that makes Discourse particularly useful is that when you go back to a thread that you’ve previously viewed, it will take you to exactly where you left off. If you’ve been gone for a few days, it would be trivial to catch up with all of the wrap-ups from the days prior. This is super helpful in the asynchronous context.
At XMTP, Inc. we strive to respect our team’s time, and constantly seek to find ways to protect and value it. If you have some feedback or just want to chat, hit us up on Twitter or our contact page… or say hi to us personally on Twitter: Matt & Shane Mac.Be sure to check out our career opportunities here: careers.xmtp.com.
Photo by Luca Bravo
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