Management
How we use Standuply in our Team

Published on
October 3, 2016
by Artem Borodin

Hi There,

Over the last couple of months, Standuply (Ex-ReportChef) was tested by limited group of people who we sent invites. That’s really great because most of all our Beta Tester users discover new valuable features of our product.

We would like to thank our Beta Testers for helping us make a better product and we know that together we will build an extremely valuable tool for all of us.

The amount of excitement from our Beta Testers in the feedback of how we can make even a better product has been overwhelming and we are quickly making these improvements but it will take several days to send out the additional information that some of you have requested.

A large number of you allowed us to interview you (thank you) and there was a common response of surprise from the majority of you when you heard about the many ways we use the standard features of Standuply.

Many of you had never considered such things even outside of Standuply and wished you had understood these possibilities earlier and strongly recommended us to better describe these uses during the onboarding.

For the moment we are still considering the best way to implement them within the product maybe during the onboarding or at some other place or all throughout the product, so we have decided the next step is to receive more feedback from you and we think some of the stories about our experience will help you see deeper into these processes and I’ll do my best to describe them in this blog post. 

 

As you read our story we hope you find new and better ways to use these processes.

Without further ado.

Well, like most of you, we strive to be as close to the classic Agile as possible…  For those who don’t know what classic Agile is, this picture is worth a thousand words. 🙂

 

Agile demotivator

 

Great picture huh and well sure we do all this to a “T” yeah of course and look a flock of flying little pink piggies.

I know, not much of a joke, but just the same we want the same things as most of you:

  • valuable stand-ups
  • real retrospectives
  • iteration planning
  • sprints’ demos
  • worthwhile brainstorms
  • good meetings on emerging issues
  • added value meetings with stakeholders (top management)
  • team-building preceded by the monitoring of the team’s mood
  • Individual status checks for tasks of specific employees (we are a distributed team and sometimes use outsource for some parts of the work)

Also, we have the same routine processes as you, in which, in one way or another all of the team members are involved:

  • we can’t forget to write on the special white board or menu what we want for lunch or our office manager won’t order a meal for us and we’ll go hungry or have to go out and pay for lunch from our own pocket, ouch!
  • sometimes our office manager polls or tells us such great topics as what books are missing from our library? how to improve our work-space? who needs stationery? or what do we want to have Friday evening beer or whiskey? Pizza or sushi? Take-out or meet at the local joint? Don’t we need to call a special meeting for this?

Also, we have the financial and administrative departments which have to provide senior management with approved reports with the same frequency.

Not the least, heaven forbid, that in such a variety of communications channels a lot of things get lost, forgotten and sometimes even seems superfluous 🙂

Did we really meet the true Agile method?

Since we didn’t find tools that would truly help us, this deep question is what prompted us to create the first automation tool with some solutions, it was Sprinterbot, which continued to evolve into what we called ReportChef, and finally became Standuply. 

Sprinterbot was great for standard stand-ups and sprints but it didn’t allow the user to expand much on these reports and the variety of reports for other uses.

With ReportChef we were able to write all the scrum reports that could be automated, expand on them and write other types of reports. But the main issue was that there were so many different use cases that our beta testers couldn’t even understand what does this bot do. So we realized that we’re not focused enough and admited that we have to change the concept. 

So, we decided to focus on stan-ups and added an ability to send the results not only to Slack, but also to Trello. This how we came up with the idea of Standuply.

Below are some of our general reports and the types that were talked about the most during the interviews.

 

Stand-up reports

We came to the conclusion that the daily stand-up does not seem to be as effective as many of us believe.  Knowing that the main value of the stand-up is the exchange of information so that everyone on the team knows what everybody else is doing which does help resolve some problems.  But, our team’s daily personal meetings became more like a formal report for management, rather than the exchange of information to resolve issues.  They didn’t minimize the live communication between managers and developers about issues that pop-up during the day.  They appeared like part of the bureaucracy, not as a benefit.  So, we stopped looking at them as personal meetings on a daily basis but as a clear hindrance but we still needed an efficient exchange of information.

Here’s how we got rid of some of the bureaucracy: ReportChef checks the team’s status every Tuesday and Thursday by asking our customized questions.  On Friday we have a live stand-up taking stock of the week since automated questions can not replace live communication.  We believe getting rid of live communication is just going to the other extreme but a balance should be found to make it truly effective:

  • So the automated questions can be the mundane but necessary questions.
  • With this, the live communication isn’t over-extended and boring.
    • We get to the point, identify problems and propose solutions. And no systematic managerial questions at the meeting.
    • Because of the bot we have a clear agenda for the meeting, after it and with follow up.

We managed to achieve this by replacing part of the communications by answers to the standup-questions from our bot that are filled with slight humor fitting to our atmosphere of friendliness and involuntarily.

This is what one looks like:

 

1

 

General settings:

Report name: Rise and Shine it’s Stand-up Time

Report timing: On Tue, Thu at 08:00 am

Introductory message: Rise and Shine, It’s time for the standup meeting. Please, answer these 3 simple questions…

Wait for response: 30 minutes

Send «hurry up» message before: 10 minutes

The «hurry up» message: Stand-up has been started.  Chug that coffee I am waiting for you to answer my questions.

 

2

Questions:

What did you do yesterday?

The expected response  Any text message

What do you plan on doing today?

The expected response  Any text message

Any obstacles?

The expected response  Any text message

Ok, got it. Thanks for your time.

The expected response  No response needed

 

The survey results are posted to our shared development channel so that the whole team is aware of what is happening and who is doing what.  You already know a main value to the stand-up’s but now it’s in writing, no one is pissy because they had to leave their desk to listen to things that had nothing to do with them, in their opinion and so forth.  No one had to memorize who was doing what or wait for a report that may come out after it is useful, everyone could see and browse through how they could benefit or help the right person in the team.  No one had to delegate the team does it by themselves.

 

 

Retrospective report

Our team uses the Kanban approach for development and as part of our Kanban we still have the sprints where we set goals and after the sprint completion, we run retrospectives.

Our retrospective has a few problems and here’s how we fixed them:

  • We remember, sure, what was inefficient over the past 2 weeks, it’s such a short period of time, but really so many things happened that we already forgot most everything that happened from the start.
  • Discussions of what happen eventually turn into some abstract debates, with some results that showed that everything is nice and agreeable, but there’s that nagging feeling inside that whispers that something just is missing.

… Standuply surveys the team every Monday and Wednesday on intermediate issues of retrospective:

 

3

 

General settings:

Report name: Retrospective Report

Report timing: On Mon, Wed at 04:00 pm

Introductory message: We want to thank all of you and thank you for thanking me but it is not over until we get this feedback and then you can play ball.

Wait for response: 30 minutes

Send «hurry up» message before: 10 minutes

The «hurry up» message: Please, now answer the questions or Betsy is coming down the hall with the ruler.

 

4

 

Questions:

What should we stop doing in the next iteration?

The expected response  Any text message

What should we continue doing in the next iteration? What activities were successful?

The expected response  Any text message

What should we start doing in the next iteration?

The expected response  Any text message

Okay, it is now time to say Amen and drink a beer, or two and Betsy won’t visit you with the ruler.

The expected response  No response needed

 

As a result, in the process of iteration nothing falls between the cracks and in the live meeting, we simply take a collection of answers that were given to the bot and discuss all the specific details about them without some abstract and intuitive feelings that something is missing.

The intermediate results from the bot survey of the retrospectives go only to the managers, who can easily just take the answers and reformat them for the live meeting it also allows you to react to inefficient processes during the iteration.

Also, we run a retrospective on Friday, after the end of a weekly status check that basically coincides with the process of iteration demos every 2 weeks. So, we in no way have increased the number of our live meetings.  Since are status checks are concrete they are not overextended and the retrospective after them also don’t take much time.

With the meetings being brief and to the point it is more productive to run these 2 meetings one after the other as the same meeting.

 

 

Mood Report

Once a week, on Friday, before the meeting of the live status check, Standuply questions members of the team about their mood.  This report is custom made, but just not the same we have a template for it in Standuply.  The template in the report recipe we could not convey the specificity of each of the teams, so we made as universal as possible, but for our team, we have a survey that fits us

So the bot doesn’t just ask the to send him a digit that matches the mood smile, but for each option, there is a more detailed statement that better reflects the mood of the team members on what’s happening during the project.

Here’s what our questions look like:

 

5

 

General settings:

Report name: Feeling Moody

Report timing: On Friday at 03:00 pm

Introductory message: Wow that was a week wasn’t it? Send me a number of emoji that best describes your mood for the week.

Wait for response: 30 minutes

Send «hurry up» message before: 10 minutes

The «hurry up» message: Hey, I’m still waiting for your emotion to describe your today’s mood.Please, share it with me 🙂

 

6

 

Questions:

  1. Everything is great. There’s a lot of work, the goal is clear, as well as the way to achieve it. I am delighted, I’m good with everything, success is waiting for us!

  2. Everything is good. I’ve got a couple of difficult tasks, and the week wasn’t easy in general, but I’ll make it. Nothing critical in general.

  3. Middling. I don’t understand some things, there are some really difficult tasks and the solutions are not clear. Not everything is so smooth.

  4. There is some commotion. The plans are fastly changing, I don’t even know what to do first. Let’s slow things down.

  5. Houston, we’ve got a problem. Everything’s wrong. We have to change something immediately.

he expected response  Any text message

Thanks, Don’t forget to have a great weekend and see you bright and early Monday

The expected response  No response needed

 

 

Ordering Food

As I wrote before, our company pays for its employee’s lunches, but it does take some time to get everyone to decide what they want and get one of the delivery services to prepare food.

In the dynamic of this whole process it often happens that someone forgets to make their order on time, Betsy is busy with other things and nothing gets ordered for them.

What’s worse people wanted Betsy, our office manager who really has better things to do, to run around and take their orders and as she would point out the tips weren’t great.

So now, everyday Standuply gives a menu and take orders from everyone.

Since lunch is very important, the bot reminds everyone twice about it 🙂

General settings:

Report name: Food

Report timing: On Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri  at 10:30 am

Introductory message: May I take your order for lunch?

Wait for response: 60 minutes

Send «hurry up» message before: 15 minutes

The «hurry up» message: Would you like something else besides water, because the kitchen is closing soon?

Questions

To see what you would like from the menu click on this link: https//docs.google.com/spreadsheets/–//–

and fill the column with what you want to order and its total.

The expected response  No response needed

 

No one needs aggregated results from lunch orders, so the checkbox “Don’t send result anywhere” is selected for that purpose.

The main result here – the table is filled and laid out on time 🙂

 

 

Additional Reports

In addition to these 4 reports, we also have surveys from the finance department and administrative departments on their performance. The results are sent directly to management.

I can not show you our the examples but I’m sure your team can create surveys that would be useful to you.  

Now Betsy can use the bot to poll the team periodic on such items as:

  • What are we doing this Friday?
  • Does anyone need stationery?
  • What books should we buy?
  • Do we need to buy a new bean bag chair?
  • Did anyone find those missing ping pong balls?

From using Standuply it’s clear that we saved time and became more effective but in short here’s where:

  1. We run live stand-ups only once a week – on Friday.
  2. Again, the number of meetings decreased, which saves us a lot of time.
  3. Now everyone attends stand-ups willingly because they discuss specific valuable things.
  4. The quality of live communication has improved significantly: meetings are not overextended, people come prepared, and even if not, then ReportChef always provides a summary of the specific topics for discussion.
  5. Retrospectives are run more with the specific issues, than on an intuitive level, without the need to remember what happened during the last iteration.
  6. We react faster to the facts or inefficiencies during the iteration.
  7. Management is able to monitor the mood of team members in an informal way.
  8. Now we order and get lunch on time.
  9. We automate many routine processes, eliminating forgetfulness or lack of time of employees to provide timely reports.
  10. We have moved from the zoo of survey technologies to our core business: some time ago our office manager used different type-forms, Google-questionnaires, individual e-mail in order to gather the necessary information on how to improve the comfort of our work. At the same time, most people forgot to answer them. Now ReportChef does all of this and the conversion of this information into the answers increased significantly. 🙂

Of course, this is all about our experience and we still need to discover how it can be scaled, primarily it has been successful for us, and secondly we hope that it will useful for you.

We hope that you found new and better ways to use these processes and we would appreciate your comments.

 

Thanks to everyone,

Artem, Product Manager of Standuply