Better, more decisive meetings

Most meetings should result in a decision. However, most meetings are not run well enough to get a decision. Today, I summarize the method Pivotal Labs uses to find The One Thing to Work On. It’s from the book Radically Collaborative Patterns for Software Makers – you can download it for free.

Chapters

00:00:00 – The agenda.
03:27:00 – The point of a meeting is to make a decision.
04:30:05 – An example of a decision.
05:51:28 – The facilitator.
07:36:12 – Examples of decisions made, esp. application modernization.
10:04:13 – From many to one – finding the ONE thing, ignoring the others.
13:04:02 – Getting people to write down all their ideas.
14:37:20 – Rip up five ideas.
17:22:08 – Go over the ideas on a wall.
18:52:20 – Several passes at prioritizing, by easy/valuable.
21:07:09 – Ranking what’s left.
22:37:26 – Mind-tricks to encourage collaboration.
24:27:12 – Mind-trick: Just start, even if it’s dumb.

CTA

Three things for more Tanzu

Link: One Simple Way to Eliminate Distractions in a Board Meeting

The best board meetings are discussions and debates about the business yet many executive teams spent their time wanting to walk through hours of slides on how great they’re doing. Humans do much better when they’re participating than when they’re being lectured to. The most value you’ll get out of your board is when they’re speaking and offering you feedback and experiences from others companies in which they’re involved.

I recommend that executive teams send materials out 72 hours in advance. I recommend that CEOs do 1–1 calls with board members prior to the meeting to walk through the high-level financials. And I recommend that boards have 2–3 strategic topics that they consider during the in-person meeting. If you run your board this way you’ll maximize the time you have together as a group and keep your board engaged.

This need to “pre-sure” is super annoying – what’s the point of the meeting then? – but key to any meeting. The, point though, is to use the meeting to discuss and decide, not to just be informed.

Also:

Final bit of advice. Some teams print out materials and hand out a printed binder during the board meeting. Don’t be this team. While it’s tempting to have a bible for your board members you’ll just enable them to “scroll ahead” and look at future slides when they’re bored. If you serve up their distraction then you only have yourselves to blame when they don’t pay attention.

Sometimes board members print out your decks or financials in advance and bring their own print outs. It’s super easy to politely say, “If you wouldn’t mind I’d love it if you would leave your notes in your bag. I don’t want to be controversial but I would love to try and have everybody fully engaged in the discussion and to do so I want to make sure everybody is on the same page at the same time.

It takes some bravery to tell your bosses (the board) what to do, to be more professional and polite. The results are probably enjoyable by both sides of the table, though.

Source: One Simple Way to Eliminate Distractions in a Board Meeting

How to Run an Effective Networking Dinner

After the initial kibitzing, I recommend standing up and doing a small toast (if it’s a dinner meeting) and introduce a “topic.” For boards this can be an issue you’ve been debating as a management team that you don’t plan to cover off at the board meeting or you can even go a little bit more fun and introduce a “get to know you” topic if the group is newer.

Source: How to Run an Effective Networking Dinner

Link: From Pink Milk to Smart Questions, How to Be a Rebel Leader

“We underestimate how flattering it is to be asked for advice. By asking questions, we give others the opportunity to share their personal experience and wisdom, thus stroking their ego. Curiosity is a way of being rebellious in the world. Rebels fight their fears and are willing to push past the discomfort of showing others that they need their help. It may feel scary, but it brings about all sorts of benefits. Curiosity is related to both greater positive emotions and greater closeness when we interact with strangers for the first time. In one study my colleagues and I conducted.”
Original source: From Pink Milk to Smart Questions, How to Be a Rebel Leader

Link: From Pink Milk to Smart Questions, How to Be a Rebel Leader

“We underestimate how flattering it is to be asked for advice. By asking questions, we give others the opportunity to share their personal experience and wisdom, thus stroking their ego. Curiosity is a way of being rebellious in the world. Rebels fight their fears and are willing to push past the discomfort of showing others that they need their help. It may feel scary, but it brings about all sorts of benefits. Curiosity is related to both greater positive emotions and greater closeness when we interact with strangers for the first time. In one study my colleagues and I conducted.”
Original source: From Pink Milk to Smart Questions, How to Be a Rebel Leader

Link: Why Do Meeting Cancellations Say “I’m Giving You Back 30 Minutes … You’re Welcome”?

‘If the meeting was for your benefit the organizer would not word the cancellation that way. That’s why you don’t hear “I don’t think we need to interview you so we’re giving you back 30 minutes. You’re welcome.” or “we’re canceling your parole hearing so you can go back to your cell and enjoy an extra 15 minutes. You’re welcome”.’
Original source: Why Do Meeting Cancellations Say “I’m Giving You Back 30 Minutes … You’re Welcome”?

Link: Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency

‘Whiteboards are a tool used by a certain type of person to “take over” a meeting. Simply going to the board and picking up a pen changes the whole dynamic of meeting ownership, agenda, control and creates a power-dynamic that is pretty hostile to collaboration. The worst part of whiteboards is that some people just don’t have the ego or personality to go to a whiteboard so they will never contribute that way. The real problem is that whatever gets written on a whiteboard can have more weight than what is said by others or than it deserves simply because it was “written”. I’ve seen whole product positioning statements upended because someone stood up at a whiteboard and rearranged the 3×3 and bullied everyone by controlling the board.’

A whole about corporate meetings in the rest of the article.
Original source: Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency

Link: Jeff Bezos admits Amazon has ‘the weirdest meeting culture you will ever encounter’, Business Insider

In the letter, he explained that writing a brilliant, long memo requires the writer to understand the subject well. It also requires the writer to “improve results through the simple act of teaching scope.” By that he means doing a great job requires effort, not speed. “A great memo probably should take a week or more” to write, he said in the letter.

“We read [the memos] in the room. Just like high school kids, executives will bluff their way through the meeting as if they’ve read the memo. So you have to carve out time so everyone has actually read the memo – they are not just pretending,” he said.
Original source: Jeff Bezos admits Amazon has ‘the weirdest meeting culture you will ever encounter’, Business Insider

Rule 1: Don’t go to meetings. Rule 2: See rule 1.

Coffee is for coders.

Whether you’re doing waterfall, DevOps, PRINCE, SAFe, PMBOK, ITIL, or whatever process and certification-scheme you like, chances are you’re not using your time wisely. I’d estimate that most of the immediate, short-term benefit organizations get from switching to cloud native is simply because they’re now actually, truly following a process which both focuses your efforts on creating customer value (useful software that helps customers out, making them keep paying or pay you more) and managing your time wisely. This is like the first 10–20 pounds you lose on any diet: that just happens because you’re actually doing something where before you were doing nothing.

Less developer meetings, more pairing up

When it comes to time management, eliminating meetings is the easiest, biggest productivity booster you can do. Start with developers. They should be doing actual work (probably “coding”) 5–6 hours a day and go to only a handful of meetings a week. If the daily stand-up isn’t getting them all the information they need for the day, look to improve the information flow or limit it to just what’s needed.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, pairing up developers (and other staff, it turns out) will increase productivity as well. When they pair, developers are better synced up on most knowledge they need, learning how all parts of the system work with a built in tutor in their pair. Keeping up to speed like this means the developers have still less meetings to go to, those ones where they learn about the new pagination framework that Kris made. Pairing helps with more than just knowledge maintenance. While it feels like there’s a “halving” of developers by pairing them up, as one of the original pair programming studies put it: “the defect removal savings should more than offset the development cost increase.” Pairs in studies over the past 20+ years have consistently written higher quality code and written it faster than solo coders.

Coupled with the product mindset to software that involves the whole team in the process from start to end, they’ll be up to speed on the use cases and customers. And, by putting small batches in place, the amount of up-front study needed (requiring meetings) will be reduced to bite-sized chunks.

It takes a long time to digest 300 pages

We’re going to need a lot more coffee to get through this requirements meeting.

The requirements process is a notorious source of wasteful meetings. This is especially true when companies are still doing big, up-front analysis to front-end agile development teams.

For example, at a large health insurance company, the product owner at first worked with business analysts, QA managers, and operations managers to get developers synced up and working. The product owner quickly realized that most of the content in the conversations was not actually needed, or was overkill. With some corporate slickness, the product owner removed the developers from this meeting-loop, and essentially /dev/null’ed the input that wasn’t needed.

Assign this story to management

Staff can try to reduce the amount of meetings they go to (and start practices like pairing), but, to be effective, managers have the responsibility to make it happen. At Allstate, managers would put “meetings” on developers calendars that said “Don’t go to meetings.” When you read results like Allstate going from 20% productivity to 90% productivity, you can see how effective eliminating meetings, along with all their other improvements, can be on an organization.

If you feel like developers must go to a meeting, first ask how you can eliminate that need. Second, track it like any other feature in the release, accounting for the time and cost of it. Make the costs of the miserable visible.

This concept of attending less meetings isn’t just for developers,The same productivity outcomes can be achieved to QA, the product owners, operations, and everyone else. Once you’ve done this, you’ll likely find having a balanced team easier and possible. Of course, once you have everyone on a balanced team, following this principle is easier.Reducing the time your staff spends in meetings and, instead, increasing the time they spend coding, designing, and doing actual product management (like talking with end users!) get you the obvious benefits of increasing productivity by 4x-5x.

If you feel you cannot do this, at least track the time you’re losing/using on meetings. A good rule of thumb is that context switching (going from one task to another) takes about 30 minutes. So, an hour long meeting will actually take out 2 hours of an employee’s time. To get ahold of how you’re choosing to spend your time, in reality, track these as tasks somehow, perhaps even adding in stories for “the big, important meeting.” And then, when you’re project tracking make sure you actually want to spend your organization’s time this way. If you do: great, you’re getting what you want! More than likely, spending time doing anything by creating and shipping customer value isn’t something you want to keep doing.

It may seem ridiculous to suggest that paying attention to time spent in meetings is even something that needs to be uttered. In my experience, management may feel like meetings are good, helpful, and not too onerous. After all, meetings are a major tool for managers to come to learn how their businesses are performing, discuss growth and optimization options, and reach decisions. Meetings are the whiteboards and IDEs of managers. Management needs to look beyond the utility meetings give them, and realize that for most everyone else, meetings are a waste of time.

For more on improving software in your organization check out my 49 pages in a fancy PDF on the topic.

A real corporate meeting, avoiding triggering The Boss

This anecdote from a story on Sears struggles is spot on strategic thinking for most corporate meeting:

There, two mid-level employees were preparing a presentation for the CEO, Eddie Lampert, when their boss rushed in with some last-minute advice.

On a chart pad he wrote three words.

“He looks at the presenters and says, ‘Do not say these words to that guy,'” according to a former Sears executive who described the meeting to Business Insider. “That guy” meant Lampert, who would soon appear on a giant projector screen at the front of the room, beamed in live from a home office inside a $38 million Florida estate – 1,400 miles away from headquarters.

The pad with the three words was out of sight of Lampert’s video feed. One of the words on it was “consumer.”

The stakes were high. If any of those words were uttered in front of Lampert, the two presenters would “get shredded” by the CEO, whose frequent tirades had fostered a climate of fear among the company’s most senior managers, said another person – this one a former vice president.

These two and other executives say “consumer” can trigger Lampert. He wants employees to instead refer to shoppers as “members,” which is his term for customers who are enrolled in Sears’ Shop Your Way rewards program.

It was at that moment, as the executive attending the meeting watched fellow employees anxiously censor themselves in front of Lampert, that he realized he needed to flee the sinking 123-year-old company.

That perfectly captures how much energy you need to spend on seemingly ridiculous details to be successful in corporate environments, not only in caustic ones, but pretty functional ones as well. I love chronically this type of tacit corporate knowledge.

The rest of the article is great background on how older companies are struggling to modernize with plenty of anonymized sources telling gritty, but helpful stories.

Amazon Staff Meetings: “No PowerPoint”

The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a powerpoint presentation, some type of slide show.  In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points.  This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience.  And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6 page narrative memo.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Also notice that everyone actually uses the first part of the meeting time (30 minutes?!) to read the memo while they all sit there:

The author gets the nice warm feeling of seeing their hard work being read.

If you have a traditional ppt presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole 6 page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on on page 4 that question is answered.

This is an anecdote that’s been floating around for awhile, so it’s good to lock down the URL for it, and the original Charlie Rose interview.