All Hail the Stand-Up Meeting!

(Photo: petecocoon)

I’m so pleased to see that stand-up meetings are gaining ground (or at least exposure, in the Wall Street Journal). I am on the record as someone who dislikes meetings in general; I also work much of the day standing up (at a great adjustable desk that Ikea unfortunately no longer makes).

As Rachel Silverman writes:

Stand-up meetings are part of a fast-moving tech culture in which sitting has become synonymous with sloth. The object is to eliminate long-winded confabs where participants pontificate, play Angry Birds on their cellphones or tune out. …

Holding meetings standing up isn’t new. Some military leaders did it during World War I, according to Allen Bluedorn, a business professor at the University of Missouri. A number of companies have adopted stand-up meetings over the years. Mr. Bluedorn did a study back in 1998 that found that standing meetings were about a third shorter than sitting meetings and the quality of decision-making was about the same.

The current wave of stand-up meeting is being fueled by the growing use of “Agile,” an approach to software development, crystallized in a manifesto published by 17 software professionals in 2001. The method calls for compressing development projects into short pieces. It also involves daily stand-up meetings where participants are supposed to quickly update their peers with three things: What they have done since yesterday’s meeting; what they are doing today; and any obstacles that stand in the way of getting work done.

Tyler Cowen also advocates stand-up meetings, and has other tips.

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  1. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Anything to reduce pointless meetings (and pointless biz travel) would be welcomed.

    I always thought a piece of techno-art in a meeting room corner that is made from a floor-to-ceiling large glass tube that has a constant flow of shredded money snowing down– would drive the point home.

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  2. Enter your name... says:

    In my experience, stand-up meetings tend to be much shorter partly because they’re usually designed to deal with a single, narrow subject.

    So a common stand-up meeting subject is gathering around a whiteboard and sorting out who’s going to be on vacation and who’s going to be in the office over the holidays. If we need to do budget work for the next fiscal year, or create a plan for a complex customer problem, then those are sit-down meetings.

    Sit-down meetings are also more efficient for small things that aren’t time sensitive. Every five-minute-long meeting really costs us about seven to ten minutes, because people have to stop what they’re doing, show up on time, and then get back to work. So we try to handle those kinds of things at a single sit-down meeting (ideally, a meeting that would be happening anyway).

    We have, BTW, also found that a cheap kitchen timer improves attitudes among the I-hate-meetings crowd (e.g., practically all engineers). When the timer dings, the meeting is over, even if the manager is mid-sentence.

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  3. Damon says:

    Does anyone really like meetings? Maybe managers, or someone who measures their daily work by how many meetings they have scheduled. My definition of a meeting; a gathering of people to talk about the things they would be doing if they weren’t in a meeting. It’s funny b/c it’s true. 😉

    One minor correction though. The Agile process itself doesn’t call for stand-up meetings. However, the Scrum process does. Scrum is a form of Agile. You can implement an Agile process and not use Scrum. But you can’t use Scrum and not be Agile.

    Don’t worry. I work in an Agile/Scrum environment and most of our managers still use the term interchangeably. It’s a common mistake for anyone who hasn’t actually used the process in their day-to-day job.

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    • Travis says:

      I like meetings. In my line of work it’s incredibly useful. There are situations where decisions require committees, or situations where I simply don’t have the expertise to solve a problem I’ve run into. The only way to make progress in those situations is through a meeting.

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  4. Pshrnk says:

    How many of us with bad backs would require a reasonable accomadation to attend any meeting?

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  5. steve says:

    I once had a rather eccentric boss in an engineering firm. For the most part he was a blast to work for. One of the the things he was big on was everyone airing their opinions and arriving at a concensous over technical issues he deemed important. One time we wasted nearly a whole day without arriving at a concensous. The next morning he started off with Dunkin donuts and coffee for everyone, then he told us no bathroom breaks until a consensous was reached. Which is exactly what we did.

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  6. DaveV says:
    They make reasonably prices adjustable desks. I own one and love it. I work 12 hour days, and usually stand all day with a gel chef’s mat to relieve pressure on the feet.

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  7. Allie says:

    I like these stand up meetings. It provides a chance to get up from a desk and a contrast to the formal, sitting meeting. The meeting are probably shorter as well, because no one wants to stand up for too long.

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  8. Mark says:

    I was a radio DJ. Most of the stations I worked at were setup for standing, with the audio control board on a countertop. The DJ stands most of the time. There were chairs designed for the arrangement.
    In meetings, we all slumped in standard chairs around the conference table. :-)

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