How daily “stand-ups” keep our remote teams ticking over

Embracing the spirit of "stand-up" meetings in our written communications to ensure we Make Everything Right in our project communications

Stand-up "meetings" are integral to SOUTHWORKS’s operations, as they enable us to stay in regular touch with our teammates, share our progress, and make decisions efficiently. We might not literally be standing, (or even meeting), but the principle is the same – we need to make ourselves understood in a couple of minutes, regardless of the medium.

The reason we favor stand-ups is simple – as a remote-first company, effective, timely, and – importantly – frequent communication between all parties is critical to keeping a project moving forward successfully. And it’s the same whether we’re talking to engineers, customers, or other project stakeholders and whether we’re working async or in real time.

In Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum, the idea behind stand-up meetings is that they won’t take too long because there aren’t many people involved and no one wants to be on their feet while someone else drones on, so everyone makes an effort to get to the point. As a remote distributed team, more often than not we don’t have actual in-person meetings – instead, we try to emulate the spirit of stand-up in our written communications by sharing the most important things we’re currently working on using succinct and focused bullet points in a document, email, or chat message.

We look to communicate a few essential things in our stand-ups:

  • What I’ve done
  • What I’m going to do
  • Whether I’m encountering a block

There are many good ways to coordinate a project, and all of them are useful, but at SOUTHWORKS we believe the most important thing is having a handle on those three things, as they put everything into perspective and clearly demonstrate the progress we’re making in a project.

Working in this way enables us to maintain a healthy pace while getting feedback as soon as we need it. It’s important to avoid confusing motion with progress. While moving things forward can feel like success, it has to be moving forward in the right direction achieving progress rather than just motion. For example, if we’re blocked we might need a teammate or client to help us get unstuck and remove that block so that we can move forward in the right direction.

We’re pretty light on rules around these parts, but we hold our principles in high regard – and a core principle for us is transparency. There are many ways to communicate what’s going on for us on a project – a meeting, an email, a Slack message, even a pre-recorded video – the important thing is making sure that we’re answering those three essential questions. In our fast-moving field, sometimes we need to make a proactive decision to keep the project moving forwards (learn more about the default action principle here) – and when communicating that decision, answering those questions can help to explain how we came to it. It’s also enshrined in our values: own it, bring it, prove it. Taking ownership like this keeps the project moving forward and shortens our lead times.

Providing frequent updates means our clients aren’t left in the dark as to where we’re at. It also helps our team members organize their thoughts and daily tasks – this is our way of seeing both The Forest and The Tree. It enables smart time management and helps us build a story as we work, keeping our eyes on the prize and adapting as needed rather than just blindly ticking tasks off a list. That’s how our daily stand-ups help us keep on track.

What are your views on having daily check-ins for project work – how do you achieve progress over motion? Check out our Careers page to learn more about our ways of working and the philosophies that underpin our success at SOUTHWORKS.