What if people thought meetings were actually work?

Every retrospective I do on every project seems to include the conclusion that “we need less meetings, less emails and more communication”.

In fact SCRUM and agile approaches even try to define the bare minimum number of meetings that are needed and only have them (Actually one of my friends claims that they have removed all the meetings – “In agile we don’t have meetings, we only have workshops.  Meetings are discussions and Workshops produce something tangible each time”).

Yet the reality seems to remain that meetings (or workshops, or gatherings, or war councils) often end up getting in the way of doing the real work:

So what would you do if you had to look at the return on investment of each meeting?  Would they actually stack up from the point of view of making money for shareholders, making life easier for the crew or improving the experience for our customers?

I think it would be fairly easy to classify most of the meetings we have as:

  1. Adding value – this meeting makes life better;
  2. Necessary waste – I wish we didn’t need it, but we need to do it because we don’t have a better alternative; and
  3. Complete waste – I would rather take the free donoughts and eat them at my desk.

I also think this is easy to do if you look at which meetings add value or create waste if we use the following structure that I often share with business analysts. Each meeting should have three things in it:

  1. The framing of the meeting
    • State the goal or purpose of the meeting
    • Clearly state what is expected at the close of the meeting (eg minutes, an agreement, an action list etc)
  2. The opening of discussion
    • Creating a list of things to be discussed, each of which is a mini-meeting. In other words we should not just wander randomly through topics as they come to mind (unless that really is the purpose of the meeting).
    • For each topic or agenda item, we can therefore create the following for it
      • Frame or introduce the goal of the topic and what we expect to get from the conversation
      • Discuss it
      • Close the topic by confirming what we found out, agreed or need to do next.
  3. The closing of discussion
    • This could involve agreeing Who does What by When; or
    • This could include confirming what has been agreed and how it will be communicated (ie What will be communicated When by Who); or
    • This could include a summary of our analysis – eg documenting the requirements by Who and When.

We all have too many meetings, but if think of meetings as work then we should put them down gently or define how we will get value from them. I am sure your team is already super-double-extra agile, but with my team I sometimes think we need to go back to basics.

So we can’t do better then I am going to ask my crew from now on to at least agree to only turn up to review their meetings and either

  1. FOC them (define the Frame – Open – Close for them);
  2. Define them as necessary waste and come up with a plan to either make them really add value or make them unnecessary; or
  3. Define them as waste and eliminate them unless there is good catering (actually – eliminate them anyway and move the catering to a useful meeting).
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