Leadership Stand-Ups


Standups are standard practice among developers, but when you move into the realm of leadership they stop. If you’re a team leader then you will probably join your team’s stand-up meeting, but often you only contribute a brief update, if anything at all. Mostly you just listen and perhaps facilitate discussion on other people’s updates.

In Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (affiliate link included) the CEO in the story asks her executives to consider that group as their primary team. I’ve been asked to do the same too, but really, if you only meet once a week or perhaps even less frequently, how can you do that? If a group is your primary team then you should know (at a high level) what everyone is working on, and what their main problems are. A leadership team where you only discuss what people decide to bring to the table will not function as well as a group that can benefit from collective wisdom being brought to bear on problems.

When you start a leadership position your calendar suddenly fills up with meetings, so the idea of adding a daily meeting might seem crazy, and it probably is. However leadership is a different role to a developer, and you can use different processes to achieve the same goals.

As a developer, simplifying greatly, you might work on one ticket, then move on to the next, all working towards completing a small number of projects. Leadership positions usually involve much longer running pieces of work, with many more running in parallel. I typically might touch on four or five of my current agenda items, progressing each one a little bit each time. There’s not much use in giving a daily update, a weekly cadence shows a better view of my progress.

As a leadership team you probably already have a weekly meeting, so why not spend the first 15 minutes of that doing a stand-up? You could, but it’s probably quite an expensive 15 minutes, and a rushed, or not well-thought-out update does not deliver any value.

With remote working now being much more common the tools for asynchronous communication are far more widely available and used. Whether it’s an email, a Slack post or something else a weekly post that’s shared with others will have benefits for yourself, and your leadership team.

For the last three and a bit years, I’ve been posting a weekly update on Slack, based on the concepts of the 5-15 updates - a message that takes you 15 minutes to write, and five minutes to read. Much like with blogging (where I’m far less good at keeping to my schedule) the habit of writing every week, on a Friday afternoon has been very beneficial.

The act of writing each week and organising my thoughts on what I’ve achieved greatly increases my satisfaction that I’ve made a positive contribution, or sometimes forces me to realise I need to do better next week! I divide my updates into two sections, what I’ve done, and what I hope to do next week. By publically committing to doing certain things next week I hold myself to account for them, and allow others to contribute if it’s a topic they’re interested in.

By both documenting what I’ve been working on, and what I’m going to do others in my department are able to see what is important to me, and either help or suggest things that I should be focusing on instead.

Finally, while I’ve not had to write a brag document in the sense that Julia Evans describes. I have found an archive of what I’ve been working on useful on occasions. Looking back through the updates it’s clear that I’m not the same person I was when I started, and that’s a great self-motivational tool.

One problem with being a manager is that you occasionally get involved in secret work. This might be an HR process, or perhaps some company announcement that is not yours to announce. Hopefully, these are few and far between, and for the HR work you should never make that public. Once something you have been working on has been published then you should include an update that describes your contribution, so the historical record is complete.

I see great value in writing a weekly update for yourself, and if as a manager you can model good behaviour then others will follow suit. As a team of leaders, more communication, more collaboration and more alignment on what you’re working on can only be a good thing. Let me know what you think about weekly updates in the comments below! Have you tried writing them? Have you commented on other people’s updates?

Want to read more like this? Follow me with your favourite feed reader (e.g. Feedly), or subscribe to my SubStack newsletter.