Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In praise of refreshingly efficient meetings

Everybody dreads bad meetings. Meetings are often too long, too often, or don't accomplish anything. At some companies, this is what they are all like.

You can implement processes to help have better meetings (which is another meeting of course). Heck, I just attended a meeting last week whose title was how to structure our meetings to have less of them.

Like everything else in the thought-based industries, the effectiveness of a meeting is 10% process and 90% people.

The other day, I attended a meeting that was remarkably crisp and effective. It was a brainstorming session, so I wouldn't have expected it. The meeting started with a general leaning towards one solution to the problem, and 15 minutes later (15 minutes early), the meeting ended with a clear path towards the exact opposite style of solution.

I walked out of the meeting thinking, "Wow! That was fun!"
To which I quickly looked in the mirror wondering why the hell I would have just enjoyed being in a meeting. Developers have been bred to hate meetings, so I obviously needed to do some serious soul-searching.

What seemed unique to this meeting vs. so many others were the following attributes:
  • An inherent sense of urgency by role: The key person in the room was a company officer with a ton of experience making decisions on a limited schedule. Sure, everybody's busy, and some people are really busy, and have that ability to keep people in the room at attention. Maybe it goes with the title, maybe it's decades of experience, maybe a little of both.
  • Flexibility in thought (an open mind): There weren't any fixed or hidden agendas, which allowed the discussion to flow quickly through the options without getting hung up.
  • Real-time calculations: Part of the discussion involved ROI. We could've marked that data as follow-up items, which would've left the discussion muddy and forced another meeting, but it wasn't necessary. With the business having a good handle on their critical numbers, and the technology team having a good rough estimate for the project size, we were able to do the math in our heads and flip through the choices in minutes.
The simplest written analogy to this that I've seen is the chapter titled "Rattle Yer Dags" in the book Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies, by the legendary Tom DeMarco and Atlantic Systems Guild. (Highly recommended.)

And you can follow the guidelines given when you google "how to run an effective meeting". That's all good stuff...the unfortunate reality for most is that meetings like this don't happen often enough.

So, cheers to refreshingly efficient meetings.

Gotta go...I'm late for another meeting.


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