(If you are using Scrum and have a Scrummaster role that is distinct from the project manager, then I would suggest these are things the Scrummaster should be considering)
1) A View of the WIP – A view of the work in progress is critical to understanding the items reported from the team. If you thought invoicing was a focus right now and no one mentions it, chances are we have an issue somewhere! Appreciating the work areas helps oversee new work selection, areas that might be falling behind, or where extra help may be required.
2) Yesterday’s issues – What did people report as issues yesterday or earlier? Have these issues been resolved now, or do we at least have an update on the resolution plan. It is pretty disheartening for people to report impediments to progress day after day and not have them worked on. It does not show much respect for their concerns or our valuation of their time. So, what is the news? Are there any follow-up items that need to happen?
3) Team View – Projects are more than tasks and schedules, they are networks of collaborating individuals. We need to understand the people elements of the team to build a shared commitment to a goal. Show an interest, recognizing a birthday, or upcoming wedding or vacation. Know what is going on with your team as it will colour their behaviours and provides a good opportunity to demonstrate an interest in them. If some people dial-in, try to follow the headlines there so you can ask them about the heat wave, giant sink hole, or whatever it is that is happening, this also helps them feel more integrated.
4) Areas of Spin and Churn – not all issues are reported specifically as issues or blocks to progress, some are more subtle, perhaps dragging anchors that slow progress rather than road blocks. Are there any tasks that have been going slower than anticipated, perhaps people are struggling to get traction (spinning) on a new task? Be especially attentive to the discussion of these items during stand-up. If things are moving again now, then great, here was a potential for micro-management interference avoided. A fact of project life is that some tasks will take longer than anticipated. If however team members are stuck on a task for a couple of days or flip-flopping on decisions or approaches (churn) then perhaps it is time to suggest a fresh set of eyes to pair on the problem or help move things along.
5) What you are going to say – just like the team members who we expect to have a list of accomplishments, planned tasks, and any impediments ready to report; it is important to have the same items to describe. I report on my progress on impediment removal and since I believe in transparent project management, run through the main project items too. While my issues may not be of as much relevance to the technical team, a review of any budget, hiring, and steering committee items is generally welcome (or at least politely tolerated!)
Obviously there are many other things to consider (shared commitment, vision, energy), but I am interested in understanding what you think the Top 5 are? If you have suggestions for items to replace any of these 5 please leave a comment, I would love hear your thoughts.