Meetings Bloody Meetings – Why do we have so many…?

the law of two feetNot too long ago at a daily stand up I heard from a Dev-Team member “Today I won’t get anything done. I have 5 hours of meetings….meetings bloody meetings”

As the team coach (read “Chicken”) I said nothing at the scrum, but took the opportunity afterwards to ask a question of the Team: “If you are invited to a meeting, do you have to go?”

I got a few questioning stares back. Usually, I let silence be silence for a bit… but I had heard this theme way too often recently. So I offered the “Law of Two Feet.”

It simply states: You have two feet, use them.

If you see a meeting as a opportunity to connect, learn, educate, share, collaborate, inspire… then by all means join it.

On the other hand if you find no value in a meeting (proposed or in progress), use your two feet and walk away. Your time is a limited resource – choose to use it wisely.

There are Fundamentally Two Kinds of Meetings…

Good Meetings

There’s a simple formula to evaluate if what you’ve been invited to / attending is a good meeting: Good = P+O+W+E+R

  • Purpose – Why do we need this meeting? Are we going to discuss the “Right Stuff”? Is there a clear and selective agenda? (More on clarifying purpose below “What kind of meeting is it?”)
  • Outcome – What do we expect to gain, produce, decide, solve or get as a result of this meeting?
  • WIIFM – (What’s In It For Me) Where’s the beef? Will I gain value? Will I provide value? Am I interested? How will this empower me/my team?
  • Expectations – Start time. End time (Time Box). What kind of preparation is needed? Is there sufficient time to prepare? What level of participation is expected? Is multi-tasking tolerated (hope not…screens/devices away…)? Is everyone clear on the decision making process (e.g., majority vote, full consensus, consensus minus one, unanimity, etc.)
  • Roles – Will everyone who needs to be there actually be there? Who’s facilitating the meeting? Who’s taking which topic? Who’s the scribe taking notes? Who’s the timekeeper? Who owns each action item produced?

…And Bad Meetings

There’s an even simpler way to tell if you’ve got a “bad meeting” rising:

  • Ask “Can what this meeting is attempting to accomplish be done any other way?” (For example, one-way information flow like status updates, can and should be done asynchronously via email, a wiki, the chat client…)

If the answer is “yes” – you’ve probably got a bad meeting, another meeting bloody meeting

(We all could fill many blog posts with what “bad” looks like… and I invite you to share your own war stories via comments, if doing so would help you in your recovery… You can also see: The 5 Most Common Pitfalls of the Scrum Events)

Agile Ceremonies

I suppose the founders of Scrum had an aversion to meetings, so they avoided that word completely, and called ’em “Ceremonies.” Scrum for example has a number of prescribed ceremonies or events (Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Demo, Sprint Retro)  that to the uneducated observer look a lot like dreaded “Meetings.”

And there are a number of other meetings that high performing, self-directed teams – Scrum, Kanban, XP, etc – use on a regular cadence to make sure that they are not simply getting stuff done, but are in fact getting the right stuff done, and at the right time. (I won’t go thru all the P.O.W.E.R. items in detail for these, just provide a broad brush stroke)

Daily – Team Stand Up (the Scrum)

General purpose: Tactical coordination, commitment, accountability, visibility

  • Provides fine-grained coordination
    • What are you working on that impacts others – bugs fixes, roll ups, outages, demos
    • What do you need from others that is a priority today – resources, etc, who/what do I need to continue to make meaningful progress – brainstorming, assistance, collaboration – who what and when?
  • Emergent details / discovery
  • Commitment / accountability
    • Upcoming blockers – will need XX from whom by when
    • What will likely move on and off the board today
  • Visibility
    • Where “traffic” seems the heaviest
    • Where there might be bottlenecks, tactical obstacles, etc.
    • Current state of sprint

Ad Hoc

  • Incident post-mortems
  • Topical – code reviews
  • Incident support (brush fires…)
  • Shoulder surfing / on-boarding

Weekly or Bi-Monthly (Iteration Based) Tactical

General purpose: Tactical alignment, priority calibration, continuous improvement, visibility

  • Ensures team alignment, shared understanding, consensus
  • Focus on appropriate business value priorities
  • Transparency, show and tell
  • Feedback loops, offer and gain insights into product, process, & team
  • Inspect and adapt, empirically, continuous improvement
  • Identify, triage and remove patterns of obstacles
  • Opportunity for a bit of celebration of accomplishments / progress
  • Opportunity to address setbacks, and create plans to overcome
  • Examples include:
    • Functional-area “kanban” WIP, priority calibration (DEV-OPS)
    • Backlog grooming
    • Sprint planning
    • Retrospectives
    • Agile fikas
    • Sprint reviews
    • Release planning

Monthly – Strategic

General purpose: Strategic alignment, group connection and coordination, visibility

  • Product pipeline review and adjustment based on progress, velocity
  • Leadership Scrum of scrums: Team leads, pm, po, stk, mkt, cs
  • Customer needs, trends, etc
  • All Hands – celebrations, highlights of progress
  • Engineering half states
  • Birds of a Feather – coordination / strategy / architecture

Quarterly – Strategic

General purpose: Longer term strategic coordination, group clarity of vision, visibility

  • Offsite leadership
  • Review strategy, competitive landscape, industry trends, key personnel, team development.
  • On site all hands – big picture goals
  • Review / update the “vision” playbook
  • Architectural road map
  • Roadmap adjustment based on priorities, reality
  • Governance meetings – evolving roles, authority, accountability

Good Meetings Matter

All of these interactions, these face-to-face conversations, yes these “Meetings,” help teams to have a meaningful sense of purpose and cohesion. They help create healthy relationships, humane connections, and productive, self-directed and highly performant teams. So I say, not all meeting suck.  Just the bad ones.

What kind of meeting is it?

Be clear on the purpose of the meeting, and communicate that at the outset. Kim Scott in Radical Candor provides a nice framework for meeting types:

  1. 1:1 Conversations – Employees set the agenda, managers listen and help them clarify
    2. Staff Meetings – Used to review metrics, provide “study hall” updates, and identify (but not make) key decisions
    3. Think Time – blocked out time to reflect
    4. “Big Debate” Meetings – Lower the tension by making it clear that you are debating, not deciding.
    5. “Big Decision” Meetings – Push decisions into the facts, pull facts into the decisions, and keep egos at bay
    6. All-Hands Meetings – Bring others along
    7. Meeting-Free Zones – blocked-out time to not have meetings

Epilogue

Not sure how the meeting went? Try this quick 2-5 min retro technique from GrowingAgile. Ask participants:

  1. Was the meeting valuable? Why or why not?
  2. Did you pay attention all the time? Why or why not?
  3. Did everyone else pay attention all the time? Why or why not?
  4. Which parts felt great? Why?
  5. Which parts felt awkward or odd? Why?

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