“Obnoxious” Means It’s Working

April 1, 2010 Will Read

Back at the ‘Labs we start off every morning with breakfast at 8:45, then at 9:05 someone rings the cowbell. The cowbell lets everyone know, “Hey we’re doing stand-up, come if you want, carry on if you need to be doing something else.”

The whole company is on their feet, one big 40 person circle. We don’t do the Scrummy standup here. We first intro any new employees, guests, interviewees, etc. Then on to things people need help on that they’re having a hard time solving within their team. Then lastly the “interestings”, stuff like “I made a thing in our tool set that’ll make doing stuff easier”, or “Don’t park your bike on Market Street tomorrow.”

The format is all about being relevant to [most] people who are attending. This is very different from a status meeting – problems get attention and knowledge gets disseminated. I love this stand-up.

Unfortunately, Pivots sometimes go off-site, where there isn’t stand-up Nirvana. In one case, the client was large enough that a handful of us Pivots were at the same place, distributed across several teams. As Pivots do, we created a hybrid of the status stand-up and our company stand-up. Every morning, we’d form a circle, and every morning the circle would be absent of client developers. I didn’t think much of it until I started to realize that stuff we talked about and addressed proactively in our stand-up was biting our client’s developers and they were getting placed in situations where they could only react.

As had been done before my arrival, I invited the client developers to join our stand up in the morning. To make the time easy to remember, and to help propagate the awareness of the event each morning, I obtained a cow bell for our use. Just like being at our HQ, I rang that bell when we gathered for stand-up. For three weeks, no one came.

No one really even acknowledged the sound of the bell. We joked that it only added to our cult-like appearance of standing in a circle. Then one day, I was running late, and missed breakfast, and as it was time for stand-up another Pivot told me he had just over-heard some people talking about the bell… JOY!!!!… using the word “obnoxious”… SADNESS, and he implied that it would be wise to have the ringing stop.

While it may be true that the bell has laid silent, and that it may have been foolhardy to assume what works in one place will work in another, I am not so certain it was a failure. As I said before, the purpose of the bell was to raise awareness, and to call it “obnoxious” is to certainly be aware. If it were just me, I might have continued to ring on. I think the better idea would be to make the stand-up itself be the thing that draws attention, “Where is everyone?”, “Oh they’re all at stand-up, didn’t you know?”

Trust me, I know.

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