What I Learned from Running Standup Meetings Remotely as a Product Manager
And how is it different from running them in-person
Standup meetings are a great way to start the day in a co-located office and get things kicked off. You can discuss major hurdles and you’re able to keep things on track for the sprint.
But what if part of the team works remote and sometimes across timezones. Do you run them offline through a collaborative document or even a Slack bot? Is that more efficient? Do you manage timezones and arrange for a video call? Do you abandon standups altogether? What’s a better way to run this essential meeting.
I’ve tried different ways of running them and here’s what I think:
Live meetings are required and asynchronous doesn’t work
If you’re not aware, in standups, the product development team gathers for a daily 15-minute meeting led by the Scrum Master/Product Manager. You go around the table and discuss the following:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- Are there any hurdles in your way?
We tried running standups asynchronously for a while. After all, you can find many Slack bots trying to solve this problem. What I realized was that it wasn’t as effective in solving one the most important purposes: uncovering hurdles for the team.
Hurdles can be anything from:
- dependency on someone for review, information, or input
- unsure about the priority
- do not understand the context
- too much workload
- disconnect on a decision taken
- behind on a deadline
Now, this depends on the team’s dynamics, cultural setup, and personality types. I observed that async wasn’t serving this purpose, so we decided to replace them with live Zoom calls.
With the video calls, you get the opportunity to probe a little more to get a list of critical hurdles that need to be surfaced.
Some of these are just people waiting for direction or clarity. And if you’re a Product Manager, it’s your raison d’être to provide that clarity. Sometimes by being decisive, sometimes by acting as a router and directing the issues to the right person.
Prioritize and align
The meeting is also an opportunity to prioritize and align the team. For example, if a developer on the team is working on something but the priority has since shifted — it’s a great way to realign. It’s not possible in async as people may not be filling the standup at the same time.
You will face disagreements or differences of opinion, but since you have more context, it is important to be the hammer and be decisive in your communication.
Keep it time-bound and open a sidebar
It’s very easy to digress in video meetings, even more than in-person ones. When you go down a thread and start discussing, it can drag on and take up others time. It’s your role as convener to bring back such discussions, opening a sidebar for offline discussion to be addressed in due course.
Since the format of the standup doesn’t change and there is no other agenda, encourage the team members to think through in advance. This will also ensure that points that might have been missed will be surfaced.
Taking and sharing notes for transparency
Where a remote standup wins over an in-person standup is in taking notes. Remote meetings allow you the freedom to use your laptop during the call to take notes. In a previous org, I remember running in-person standups and awkwardly jotting down notes in a notebook for reference later.
While talking it’s also more efficient to share the screen and let others know where you are and confirm what’s being said.
Another benefit is that these notes can be shared with everyone and is more permanent. Having this on record is also like a commitment that each team member keeps with themselves and the team. I share the notes on a #standups channel on Slack and those tagged for clearing the hurdles can check them off, once resolved.
This also works well for the leadership team in other timezones who can quickly catch up with what’s happening and don’t need to spend time in pinging for status updates.
Don’t forget introducing positivity and reinforcing the vision
Let’s be realistic. Your team members don’t want to spend time in yet another meeting, so it’s up to you to make it a more positive experience for them. I’ve noticed that when I start the meeting by talking about general positive topics, it leads to a better meeting. And there’s plenty of research to back this up. I won’t say that I am hitting the mark here, but I am constantly learning and always hoping to improve.
It’d also be remiss to not use this opportunity to provide and reinforce the vision of the product roadmap. Keeping the sprint goals handy is a good option to run people through when required. Some individual contributors don’t care about the ‘Why’ as much while some care. As a coach, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and you’ve to tailor it.
Remote working is lonely. One way to bring about togetherness is for a group video call for everyone to have their videos on. Establishing that personal connection goes a long way in establishing trust and togetherness.
It also works to keep people active and engaged while others are talking too. Knowing and understanding other people’s challenges helps build empathy across different roles.
Meetings are costly when you calculate the combined time spent by all the participants. In my experience, a short and precise 15-minute meeting can create value when you use it as an opportunity to unblock hurdles, prioritize and align, share notes for transparency, introduce elements of positivity, and reinforce the vision.
I hope this will help you decide whether to have standups for your remote team and what aspects to focus on while doing so. Let me know your thoughts below.
P.S. Here’s a Notion template that you can duplicate and use.