Thursday, June 29, 2006

Recepie for Effective Meeting

I was running late for a meeting. Frustrated over being late, the meeting itself that looked like a waste of time, and overal number of meetings we have, I got an enlightment:

Meetings is a penalty for the lack of effective [face to face] communication.
Meetings are overhead. Trash. Wasted time, multiplied by the number of participants. They grow in length and numbers and the process becomes Meeting Driven Development.

But in a real world software organization we do have meetings, and no chance to eliminate them in any foreseeable future. The best we can is keep them under control.

A simple recepie of effective meeting:
* Own a meeting
* Define the goal, and expected outcome.
* Publish Agenda
* Come prepared
* Keep it short. Consider timeboxing.
* Close the meeting explicitly.

Comments on the bullets:

Coming prepared made easier when the goal, agenda, and expectation are set and known in advance. But still takes a commitment, discipline, and some training. If you see the participants didn't do their homework, stop and reschedule the meeting. It doesn't pay to continue the meeting; so you better send a strong message and the next time it will certanly be better.

Why timeboxing? Look at those people! When they come to an air conditioned board room, dive into those nice executive leather cheers, and got ready to a nap, buddy, good luck with your agenda! To keep the energy level high, keep the meeting short. Timebox it to 30 minutes, and say so. Keep a timer. Stand. Make everyone physically participate - write on a white board, take notes, walk, move! Don't steal the whole meeting (oh, is it Dmitri saying that? who can believe!?)
Sometimes the meeting subject should be resolved and finished no matter what. Even then an incremental iterative approach to meeting pais off.

How to know when the meeting is done? How to know if it went well? The answer to this is a goal and expectations posted with agenda, and restated first thing in the beginning of the meeting. Write them down on the white board, have everyone look onto it throughout the meeting.

Define the type of the meeting. Is it a brainstorming session? Is it a presentation? Is it an open discussion, feedback generation exercise? Are you gonna consume this feedback or throw it away? Decide, and define.

In closing, recap the goal, outline results, next actions, assigments. If the meeting was effective and productive, say so. Make your mates feel well (even if they missed their nap).

The final bullet:
* Foster communication beyond formal meetings. Remember that "Meetings is a penalty for the lack of effective communication."

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At 7/04/2006 12:37:00 PM , Blogger Alex Makarski said...

A truly great article.

Here's an observation from the sales side.

I notice my sales meetings are a lot more effective -- and efficient -- when done over the phone.

This way I maintain the control of the meeting. "They" can't be distracted by phone calls or visitor -- they ARE on the phone!

"They" don't click away from the part of software I am showing them -- because they had to rely on my instructions for the next step.

"They" feel they have the control because they are alone in their office and they click the mouse (and I tell them where to click).

I've used the same presentation script using:
- face to face meeting
- virtual meetings (using GoToMeeting or other similar tools)
- phone only (would be in front of their computer test-driving the application using the trial account I have set up for them).

My conclusion:
- my phone-only meetings produce better results faster. The phone-only method outperformes any other by a huge margin.

This is very counter-intuitive, yet my numbers speak very clearly.

At 7/07/2006 09:11:00 PM , Blogger Deb said...

Hmmm. I think of a meeting AS face-to-face communication. Then again, my meetings are not talking-head or rubber-stamp events. They are working sessions, and people tend to enjoy them (once they recover from the hard work! :-) Only contributors are invited - I've had extra people invite themselves, and eventually people feel free to uninvite themselves if they don't feel it's valuable enough.


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