January 18, 2023

The New Option for Team Standups

Frank Corrigan
Data Science / Analytics

When a data analyst has an issue, they often go down a rabbit hole trying to solve it themselves. This is, to say the least, inefficient. Often, data analysts have a rich pool of individuals around them to help solve their problem faster - their team! But if the team isn’t connected and aligned, the rabbit hole exploration may ensue (and often does). That’s a simple, but clear, characterization of why teams have daily standup.

Standups are a daily opportunity for teams - and the individuals that comprise them - to recalibrate. Atlasian compares them to the well-known “huddle” in American football. “For software teams, the stand-up is like the team’s huddle.” It ”keeps the team informed, connected, and calibrated throughout the game.” There are 3 classic questions that each person on the team addresses with brevity: what did I work on yesterday, what am I working on today, what issues are blocking me. When everyone feels aligned, they break. 

When individuals on teams were all co-located, they stood (hence the name standup) in a circle. However, with hybrid and remote work becoming the norm for many teams, there are 2 alternative approaches emerging in the standup world; sync video and async written. Both have advantages, both have disadvantages. 

Sync Video

Advantages

  • Human presence captures intonation & emotion
  • Speed -> information exchange is real time
  • Synchronous feels collaborative

Disadvantages

  • More ‘meeting time’ (time inflexibility)
  • Avg. attention level is sub-optimal (distractions)
  • Dominated by ‘loudest’ individuals

Async Written

Advantages

  • Less ‘meeting time’ (time flexibility)
  • Written record increases transparency
  • Equalizes individual’s voices

Disadvantages

  • Intonation & emotion are lost
  • Standup becomes an individual activity
  • Tribal knowledge remains siloed

Recalibrating is complex, but important. Shane Parrish teaches that when you have boiled decisions down to a binary - this or that - you have likely oversimplified the problem. To make consistently great decisions, you should consider if there is at least a 3rd option. We are in luck because modern advances in AI-powered text analysis have given us a 3rd option for recalibration routines like the daily standup; Async Voice + AI-powered summarization. 

Whether the recalibration routine is daily standup, project status update, retrospective, or meeting prep, you are gathering feedback from multiple people and using that to assess the situation. As the number of people increases, the ability to do that synchronously without significant interruption to some of those individuals decreases rapidly. Instead, start with async but don’t ditch the intonation & emotion required to get the full context and increase team connection. We have a hunch, supported by preliminary research, that emotion is better recognized with voice only. That’s why we start with async voice rather than async written or video.

UPS used to use an advertisement slogan: “moving at the speed of business.” Voice doesn’t always move at the speed of business. That’s where AI-powered text analysis comes in. Transformer models for natural language processing have changed the AI-text landscape in the past 2 years. It is now possible, given a little bit of structure to a conversation, to use these models to generate coherent, human-readable text summaries from conversation transcripts. This is the unlock. This allows the async voice medium to move at the speed of business.  

This combination, async voice + AI-powered text, allows teams to reap many of the advantages of both sync video and async written standups while limiting the disadvantages:

Advantages

  • Less ‘meeting time’ (time flexibility)
  • Written record increases transparency
  • Equalizes individual’s voices
  • Voice captures intonation & emotion
  • Speed -> information exchange is near real time (with AI text)
  • Tribal stories are exchanged and shared

Disadvantages

  • Fear of recording voice

Hybrid & remote teams need both time flexibility and to be connected/aligned. The prevailing approaches to daily standup - sync video and async written - fall short on both of these goals. Async voice + AI-powered text delivers a new kind of experience for a new kind of team. Meet Storied

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