/ Von Stuart Fish

I’m up in the North of Germany supporting a customer improve their Agile practices and their probability of getting a complex multi-platform product out into the market. I´m not allowed to say who they are, but let’s just say that they face a range of common challenges and that they plan to enter a competitive international market that places a high value on simplicity and usability.

The brief subject of this blog is the „horror twice-per-month status update meeting“. A meeting where the Business Owner (CEO), Management team (CEO-CTO-COO) would come together with the PO´s of Agile teams to „report on status“. On observing the meetings we noticed that they were using traffic-light reports to report on sub-project status (green=really good, everything is going just swell, amber=some problems but, honest, really not too bad, almost good!, red=bad, and so we´ll just try to avoid using that color). What was clear from talking to people before and after the meetings was that in the meeting no-one actually really knew the whole „status“ (or certainly weren´t feeling the need to verbalize it). Things did not look too good. No-one felt good going into or coming out of the meeting. The only learning seemed to be – this meeting sucks!

To escape the horror of the status meeting, we´ve started to use a meeting format we ourselves use in improuv. Now you all probably know improuv and that we are all happy, smily agilists – but we are not hippies! We also need to get things done! When we come together as a team we need to update each other briefly on what we´ve been doing, are doing and will be doing, we need to share and create knowledge, and we need to surface and discuss relevant (to this group) topics that need attention/discussion/decision/agreement. And we need to do all this in a timebox that doesn´t require caffeine and Acupuncture to keep us alert and active until the end of the meeting 🙂

The new Peer Review with the customer now follows the following format:

Timebox: 1.5 hrs

Participants: Management team, Chief Product Owner/Product Owners, Key Stakeholders, agile coaches

Location: held „standing up“ in front of big visible charts (see image below)

Moderator: Agile Coach (or member of the team)


1) The Standup

Each participant gets up to 2 minutes to give a brief update on:

– what my team and I have been doing in the past 2 weeks (relevant highlights)

– what we are currently working on

– what is planned (highlights) for the coming 2 weeks

– any major impediments relevant to this meeting group (not discussed unitl 2nd phase of meeting)

NOTE: when doing this for the first time, important to brief participants and ask them to gather their thoughts „before“ the meeting – if not then you´ll get a lot of rambling unstructured comment 🙂

2) The Market Place

This part of the meeting lets the team dig into issues and impediments that need to be addressed. To structure this we use a board. Here is how we do it (see the board below):

– each participant is asked to write down issues (on postits/cards)  that they wish to bring up and discuss in the group

– they are then asked to standup, place them on a board, and simply read out what they have on the card (but no discussion). Issues are placed on the board in three swimlanes:

–> less than 2 minutes: these are thinsg that I, as a participant, think we can discuss/agree/decide very quickly – in less than 2 minutes

–> 5 minutes plus potential 2 minute extensions: I think this is a larger topic that may take 5 minutes or a little more

–> 15 minutes plus potential 2 minute extension: bigger topics that will need some time to discuss

Timeboxing: the moderator needs to keep strict timeboxes. When the time comes to „extend“ the timebox for the 2nd and 3rd swimlanes, the moderator first asks the team if they wish to extend the timebox (thumbs up/down). And only if the group decide it´s worth continuing do you continue for another couple of minutes (you may agree to take an issue offline, park it until another time etc.)

MODERATION: this phase needs good timekeeping = good moderation. For this customer, the senior Agile Coach takes over this role. In other cases the moderation role rotates through the team.

3) The Theme Section (Knowledge exchange)

This part of the meeting is used to deep dive into other relevant topics. The topics can be agreed and communicated before the meeting or, as often happens, someone from the management team come to the meeting with one or two keep topics/updates/issues that they wish/need to discuss and reyolve within this group. Whatever best works for you!

Feedback from the team: „wow, I´m surprised how much value we now manage to get out of this meeting“

Give this approach a try – and inspect & adapt as you go. 

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