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Engineering Leaders: Here's How to Get the Most Out of Your Daily Syncs – Built In Chicago


Looking for a new and exciting way to make your sync-up meetings electrifying, adrenaline-filled and downright thrilling?

Well, don’t look here. 

Alana Anderson, an engineering manager at cybersecurity platform Kenna Security said daily or weekly huddles are supposed to be repetitive, like a yoga practice, in order to keep teams well-coordinated and in-sync. By setting meetings at the same time and place with the same expectations week over week, team members can focus on relaying key updates to managers rather than preparing for new prompts.  

However, repetition doesn’t mean boring. While most engineering leaders agree to keep sync-up meetings under 30 minutes, Jacob Malliet, a tech lead at Milyli, said virtual water cooler talk adds some levity to regular updates. Since many of these huddles are now happening remotely, Brian Theise, an executive lead at Peapod Digital Labs, said he encourages people to turn their video on and utilize backgrounds — it’s okay to have a little fun.

 

Jacob Malliet

Tech Lead

Tech Lead Jacob Malliet said casual “water-cooler talk” helps his team warm up at the start of virtual meetings at Milyli, a software development firm that builds custom software solutions for legal professionals. From there, Malliet allows each person two to three minutes to discuss their priority items and announce soft deadlines. As a leader, Malliet said tracking those deadlines helps identify if the project is on course or if there will be problems ahead.

 

What does a typical sync-up look like for your team, and how do you structure those meetings to ensure they’re as effective/productive as possible?

A virtual stand-up for us starts with “water-cooler talk.” While we’re remote, we do Slack calls. We start with our highest priority items and then discuss the previous day’s accomplishments. Each person gets about two to three minutes for their key updates depending on how many people are attending.

Extend the meeting if necessary; there shouldn’t be a rush for the meeting to end early.”

 

What’s one thing you’ve done to improve the effectiveness of your stand-up meetings? 

We’ve learned to track and call out soft dates a lot more often. Watch for when any early estimates start to slip or fall behind early in a project. If you miss those first target dates, even if they’re soft or planning-related, it usually indicates there will be problems ahead. Working remotely, you have to listen and track everything a little more closely.

 

What’s one strategy you’ve found to be critical for keeping employees engaged throughout these meetings?

Extend the meeting if necessary; there shouldn’t be a rush for the meeting to end early. Instead, make space for those offline discussions that used to happen in smaller groups or one-on-one. While remote, those conversations need to be facilitated because you don’t have the visual or physical cue anymore. It breaks the traditional pace standards of stand-ups to allow for extraneous topics, but as long as it’s in our allotted time, we’ll tend to circle back for more details before dismissing the group.

 

Alana Anderson

Engineering Manager

Alana Anderson, an engineering manager at Kenna Security, said sync-ups are like a yoga practice in that a little repetition can go a long way. When considering change, solicit feedback from the team for suggested improvements. From there, changes should be incremental to allow for quick adjustments.

 

What does a typical sync-up look like for your team, and how do you structure those meetings to ensure they’re as effective/productive as possible? 

The purpose of stand-ups is to ensure team communication is present around any progress made toward the team’s sprint goals.

One of our methods includes a walkthrough of our team sprint board. The engineering manager or scrum master will drive this session by sharing their screen on a Zoom call, guiding their team through in-progress items. The idea here is to gain insight into the progress made with each engineer in regards to their assigned tasks, such as a brief summary of what the task entails, a status update or any impediments that are blocking the individual or team.

This method should take no longer than 10 to 15 minutes. It acts as a visual guide and reminder for the team and how they’re making progress in their sprint.

 

What’s one thing you’ve done to improve the effectiveness of your stand-up meetings?

Just because one method serves its purpose well doesn’t mean we can’t explore improvements. Seeking feedback from your team helps immensely with this. 

In our stand-ups, we occasionally have a different engineer take the driver seat. Doing so helps build leadership skills for the individual and grants the team a change in pace and scenery. A fresh voice or guiding round-robin style can reinvigorate the team.

Unpopular opinion: stand-ups are meant to be repetitive.”

 

What’s one strategy you’ve found to be critical for keeping employees engaged throughout these meetings?

Unpopular opinion: stand-ups are meant to be repetitive. For your team to be well-coordinated and in-sync, a little repetition goes a long way. 

Same place, same time, same agenda. If you’ve ever taken yoga classes, it’s very similar. To alleviate the “boring” feeling, exercise the feedback from your team. Trying new things should be done incrementally; test out the hypothesis and make adjustments when needed. Ultimately, repetition should pave the way to establish stand-ups as a daily ritual for your team.

An example of a piece of feedback that came through a retro session was taking one day of the week and not hosting the stand-up. Simply giving that time back to your engineers to focus can be a game changer to the productivity of the sprint. 

 

Brian Theise

Executive Lead, Technology

At grocery delivery platform Peapod Digital Labs, Executive Lead Brian Theise said weekly 30-minutes huddles across the company are an effective way to show off projects and celebrate goals and milestones. Since the company is remote, Theise said he encourages everyone to turn on their video and utilize a fun background to create a sense of community. 

 

What does a typical sync-up look like for your team, and how do you structure those meetings to ensure they’re as effective/productive as possible? 

I host a weekly 30-minute Tuesday morning stand-up across our technology and product organizations. A typical stand-up includes around 240 people across four office locations. Everyone joins via Zoom and from there, I kick off the meetings with any general business and introduce our newly hired associates, which is around 10-15 new people each week. 

The agenda is usually loose with one or two planned topics and then we let the group steer the conversation. We have so many projects and initiatives with many goals and milestones, so there is no shortage of potential topics to cover. Our intent is not to cover them comprehensively; usually an update is kept to under a couple of minutes. Our folks are proud of their work and willing to share, so we quickly exhaust our 30 minutes.

We want to create an atmosphere that encourages participation.

 

What’s one thing you’ve done to improve the effectiveness of your stand-up meetings?

Given we are all remote now, we encourage everyone to utilize their video and have a little fun with backgrounds. I believe the video gives people a little more sense of connection with their colleagues, resulting in greater attendance and participation.

 

What’s one strategy you’ve found to be critical for keeping employees engaged throughout these meetings?

We try to keep things light and easygoing. Not everyone is comfortable speaking to hundreds of people, so we want to create an atmosphere that encourages participation. We may also include some live music from one of our many talented musicians at Peapod Digital Labs, just to keep things interesting.

 





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