Why We Moved to Async Stand-ups ☀️

And why we are not going back to calls anytime soon.

Hey! Luca here, this week I spent some time touring Sicily 🏖️ and disconnected from the digital world.

I wrote the article below a few months ago for my company’s blog. You find the original version here. I hope you enjoy it!

When I joined Translated last September we created a new product team dedicated to internal tools.

It is a small team — four people — devoted to improving lives of the 40+ Account Managers & Project Managers working in the company.

Early on we spent a few weeks collecting requirements, prioritizing features, and laying a bit of groundwork for the development process.

☀️ Daily Stand-ups, in person

We did this at the office, and among other things we had daily stand-ups first thing in the morning. Stand-ups have always served us well, in particular:

  • 🚫 They make sure there are no blockers.

  • 🎯 They make people commit on daily goals, which has a positive effect on their motivation.

  • 🤗 They provide a sense of teamwork and belonging, which is precious for a newly formed team.

Over time, though, they also brought some drawbacks — mostly because of two elements:

  • Real-time meetings are expensive — both in time and energy.

  • Real-time meetings are synchronous — everyone needs to stop what she is doing to join.

There is no way around this. Meetings draw tons of energy from people, and they also interrupt other productive work that would benefit from long, focused streaks of time.

Moreover, in the case of stand-ups, many times the discussion turns out to be trivial, and the full meeting feels like an overkill.

Anyway, we didn't make any changes to the process during the first weeks.

That is, until COVID stroke and we went full remote.

📞 Remote Stand-ups, in Call

From remote, having stand-ups in call immediately felt wrong. Both issues in fact — expensiveness and synchronousness — got amplified:

  • Calls are more expensive and less effective than meetings: people get exhausted rapidly, and it's hard to keep them engaged.

  • From remote, everyone is encouraged to work on their own schedule. Having a daily interruption, at an arbitrary time, feels like a waste.

✍️ Remote Stand-ups, Asynchronous

After some tinkering, we tried ditching the daily call for a written, asynchronous report. We started using StatusHero (no affiliation!) to send stand-up reports, and connected it to Slack to have them in a dedicated channel.

This choice proved to be the right one, bringing both expected and unexpected benefits:

  • ⏱️ We don't have to wait for each other — people have to submit their report before 10:00am, but within this window they do it whenever they like. For some it's 10:00, for others it's 8:30.

    📖 Written communication beats verbal communication — taking the time to write down your tasks usually leads to more thoughtful results than just saying them out loud. Also, having them in written form allows us to go back to them when needed.

  • 📊 Analytics — writing things down allows to track them, which in turn leads to insights. How often people complete their daily goals? How often are they blocked? Is there any trend happening?

  • 🔌 Integrations — tools like StatusHero, Range, and others provide integrations with popular developer tools. In our case we connect with GitHub and Clubhouse, so we can see in everyone's stand-up their contributions for the day, like commits and story updates.

👎 Downsides

Over time we also found a few downsides, and worked to minimize them.

Sometimes we need deeper alignment on some specific topic, and the written report just doesn't cut it. So we give everybody the power to summon a regular, stand-up call when they need it for the day. We end up doing it about once a week.

We also realized we lost some of the team-bonding effect, from the times we did it in person. We tried several things but, to be honest, I feel we didn't really solve this. In person interaction has just a different vibe.

📚 Resources

Here are a few useful resources if you want to dig more:

  • 🌀 When You Should Have a Meeting — I wrote a small framework to decide what requires a meeting and what not. Stand-ups usually do not make the cut.

  • 📑 Why we replaced our stand-ups with a robot — Zapier, which is a full remote company, tells how they did kind of the same thing, implementing a slack bot for their stand-ups.

  • 📑 Stand-ups for Agile Teams — Atlassian does a bit of everything! Based on the team you are in, you might have in-person stand-ups, remote standups in call, or async stand-ups.

  • 🔨 StatusHero / Range — These are both great tools to implement async check-ins for your team. They also come with several third-party integrations, chances are they work nicely with the tools you already use.

And that's it for this week! Do you do stand-ups? Do you do them in person, in call, or asynchronously? Let me know in the comments or via email!

⭐ Weekly Featured Jobs

Here are the remote engineering jobs featured this week! They are all from great companies and I personally review them one by one.

  1. PagerSenior Software Engineerthe best way to capture and share your digital life.

  2. Journey — Founding Frontend Engineer — a storytelling tool designed for the internet age.

  3. A Team — Senior Software Developer ($130-190/hr) — professional network for A-Talent to connect and form full-stack teams.

  4. Companion — Senior Backend Generalist — transformative learning experiences for your dog.

  5. Sermo — Senior Backend Engineer / Senior Frontend Engineer— the social network for doctors.

Browse many more open roles (or add your own) on the full board 👇

Check out all Refactoring Jobs

Hey, I am Luca 👋 thank you for reading this far!

Every week I read tens of articles and draw from my own experience to create a 10-minutes advice about some engineering leadership topic.

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