How to use Agile meetings to speed up your projects
We know what you’re thinking. Agile = Flexible.
But no, Agile meetings have nothing to do with Yoga. We’re not going to ask you to bring mats and do a downward dog pose while reciting the agenda. You will, however, learn about another way to be productive.
Agile meetings are a productive alternative to the dreaded office meeting or conference call. With a clear structure, shared responsibility, and strict time limits, they’re much more effective.
In this article, we’ll cover the 5 main Agile meetings, and exactly how you can use them to boost productivity in your company.
Why you need Agile meetings in your life
A quick Twitter search will show you how people really feel about your meetings and Zoom calls.
Meetings have an image problem. But you don’t need Donald Draper and a million-dollar ad campaign.
The root problem is that most meetings are unproductive.Unproductive meetings cost US businesses alone an estimated $399 billion every year.
What if we told you there was a way to cut down on useless meeting time and make your team members like them more at the same time?
That’s where Agile meetings come in.
How Agile meetings are different
There are many things that set Agile team meetings apart from their old-fashioned counterparts.
But a few of them stand out:
- Meetings are time-boxed, with daily standup meetings lasting 15 minutes or less.
- Everyone has skin in the game (assigned tasks or milestones) — No irrelevant participants.
- No off-topic chit chat (we don’t want to hear about your snorkeling trip, Bob).
Of course, like with regular meetings, there’s not just one type of Agile meeting.
What are the 5 Scrum ceremonies (meetings)?
In 2020, the majority (58%) of Agile teams use the Scrum framework, which is why we’re mainly covering Scrum ceremonies in this post.
The 5 most important Scrum meetings are:
- Backlog refinement (reviewing all requirements, bugs, etc., to prioritize the right work)
- Sprint planning (before starting a Sprint)
- Daily standup meeting (also known as daily Scrum or daily huddle)
- Sprint review (client review of the delivered outcome of the Sprint)
- Sprint retrospective (evaluation after a Sprint)
Note: Although they’re called Scrum “ceremonies,” they’re really just meetings. No gongs or incense involved.
#1: Backlog refinement
Before you even start a Sprint, you need some sense of direction.
In a backlog refinement meeting, you make sure your Agile development roadmap is captured in clear user stories and actionable tasks.
Take your rough product backlog draft, and expand on items with details, tasks, and estimations.
Rate and prioritize the user stories (software features) based on importance and difficulty.
Working with Google or Excel sheets is like asking to lose control. Use a dedicated solution like monday.com’s backlog template instead.
It makes it easy to revise and control both your general product backlog and your backlog for each Sprint.
#2: Sprint planning
After you have some idea what features you want in the short term, it’s time for the Sprint planning meeting.
The meeting takes place before the start of every Sprint, and the product owner and the whole team should participate.
The goal is simple, but not easy.
Review the entire product backlog (all features and tasks), and decide which to move into your Sprint backlog. Basically, choose exactly what you want to do over the next two weeks.
Many teams also include an overarching Sprint goal, which summarizes the intention of your new iteration. For example, you could target multiple user stories that impact the mobile app experience.
One of the main challenges of Sprint planning is setting realistic deadlines.
At monday.com, we tackle this issue using story points (SP), which we consider to be roughly a workday (8 hours).
For a 2-week Sprint, we plan a total of 8 SP, giving us at least a 2-day margin for unexpected roadblocks, changes, and delays.
Our step-by-step guide to Agile planning will help you through your first meeting.
#3: Daily standup
After you’ve started your Sprint, you need to stay on track. That’s what the daily standup is for.
It’s a short meeting, typically done standing up (who would’ve guessed) at the start of each day of a Sprint. The product owner and the entire team should participate.
You may think that a daily meeting is counterproductive, but the daily Scrum isn’t.
It focuses on 3 main questions that facilitate action:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- What’s in your way (bottlenecks)?
This helps your Scrum team quickly identify any potential roadblocks or issues and focus on what needs to be done now.
The daily Scrum meeting is what most people think of when they say “Agile meeting.”
The strict time box (15 minutes) and unwavering format (no tangents, just the 3 questions) boost productivity, instead of hampering it.
At monday.com, our remote team has daily standup meetings through Zoom. During the meeting, we share the project dashboard on screen to improve transparency and accountability.
#4: Sprint review
The Sprint review meeting is essential to the Agile process. It’s where you get your user feedback, and test the progress.
It’s not just another meeting of your Scrum team members. You must invite important customers and users (stakeholders) of the software to test the changes.
Stakeholder testing of the “product increment” (the changes you made during the Sprint) is essential.
It’s not enough to have just successfully added the features. The Sprint goal is to deliver a new and better user experience.
- Are the changes what the customer expected?
- Is something not as user-friendly as you intended?
- Are they now saying that they want changes? (Do you need to adapt your backlog for the next iteration?)
If the new version is everything they wanted, success!
If not, you may have to adjust your upcoming backlog with necessary changes.
#5: Sprint retrospective
After every Sprint, you should have a Sprint retrospective meeting.
It’s a Scrum ceremony where your members look back at their work. You should focus on things that went well, imminent problems, and areas with room for improvement.
Typically, you distill it into 4 key takeaways:
- What went well in the Sprint
- What areas could be improved (inaccurate estimations, bad prioritization)
- What you’ll commit to improving in the next Sprint
- Any adjustments you should make to the product backlog (changes in priority, etc.)
But it’s hard to gain any meaningful insights unless you closely tracked each user story and task.
monday.com’s internal team uses the Scrum Sprint planning dashboard to analyze our performance. At a glance, all team members can see what goals were met and if they were completed on time.
How long should Agile meetings last?
A daily Scrum meeting shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes unless you have an unusually large team. (And we mean unusually large, 8 members don’t cut it.)
Any team member shouldn’t have a problem answering the 3 questions in under 90 seconds.
If they do, this could be a sign that they have too many responsibilities.
Other meetings have varying lengths depending on the length of your Sprint:
- A backlog refinement meeting depends on the size of your backlog and can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours
- A Sprint planning meeting could last between 2 and 6 hours
- A Sprint review could last between 1 and 3 hours
- A Sprint retrospective could last between 30 minutes and 2 hours
How do you run an Agile meeting?
Most books and blogs on the topic will tell you that you absolutely need a Scrum master to arrange your meetings.
But at monday.com, we believe sharing responsibility and ownership is more important for an efficient Scrum process. (Democracy FTW!)
When everyone has skin in the game, it’s easier to hold productive meetings and maintain a Sprint. Establishing a culture where everyone cares about the project is the best compass.
But for it to work with no clear leader, you need to follow a few clear ground rules.
- Set agendas in advance and make sure everyone knows them
- Keep it short, don’t use any unnecessary time
- Same time each week or every day
- Same meeting place (or Zoom room)
- No off topic discussions
- Make sure everyone has a chance to speak (I.e., everybody gets their 90 seconds)
Instead of just handing out a list of rules, discuss them and make sure that everyone agrees and internalizes them. That way, there’s no need for meeting police.
The key to following the Agile method in meetings is to get straight to the point.
But to get to the meat of it, you need to have a clear view of where your project stands at all times.
That way, there’s no need for in-depth play-by-play updates. Everyone already has a general idea of what’s happening.
Our Scrum planning template will get you off to the right start.