No One Likes Meetings

Who really likes meetings?  I mean, I’m sure some people do, somewhere.  But it seems like a lot of people don’t. So many don’t, in fact, that Scrum and Sprints are designed to minimize meetings.

But let’s look at the Agile Manifesto.  It says, “We favor…”

  • Individuals and interactions
  • Customer collaboration
  • Responding to change

In fact, of the 12 Principles of Agile:

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

How would you do all of these things without meetings?

There’s an interesting juxtaposition here.  Joel Spolsky believes every developer should have a private office.  In practice, very few companies give every developer a private office.  In fact, I’m thinking over all the companies I’ve worked for or with over the years (and there’s a lot) and I can only remember one or two private offices.

This is a tricky subject, but the reality I think is that face-to-face, in-person meetings are useful, but things need to be managed.  There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that developers really only give maximum productivity for like 4-6 hours a day. So what do they do with those other hours?  One important this is communication and information exchange with other people. In other words, meetings!

I think the key is not to never have meetings.  The key is to allow developers to get in the zone, get in the flow, because that’s when they are most productive.  So how can you do this?

I worked with a team once in Dallas. The lead would bring every developer together every morning for about an hour, where they would sit with coffee and discuss what they were going to do that day.  Now I can already feel the Scrummers cringing, but it wasn’t that bad. The attendees were scoped to the “two-pizza team” so everyone had a vested interest in the conversation. Everyone was in the loop, and everyone left the table with a very clear picture of what they were supposed to do that day.

What happened next is just as important as this meeting.  Everyone went to their desk and started working, and they were left alone.  There were no more meetings! Every got to go get in the zone and be productive for the next 4-6 hours.  I was only with that team for about 2 weeks (as a consultant) but I suspect they were very high performing.  In just the short amount of time I was there they got more done than I’ve seen other teams do…well, frankly, ever.

I also suspect that this team had worked together for a while, so they knew each other well and could communicate with each other easily.  Here’s where the other challenge with meetings comes in.

My current organization is really large, and there are a lot of communication interactions required across teams.  With some of the other teams we have a weekly regularly scheduled meeting, and to be honest I like it. Because throughout the week, things come up where I need answers or actions from another team and it seems like no one is ever responding to my emails, phone calls, or IMs.  But with a regularly scheduled meeting, then I know I can queue up all my needs and get everything I need in one shot.

This is actually way less stressful than having a whole bunch of asynchronous lines of communication out for separate issues. I suspect it’s also easier on them, because I’m not bugging them with emails and phone calls and stopping by their desk.  Instead, there’s one moment during the week where they can give me their attention, then they can happily go back to ignoring me for another week.

So although no one really likes meetings, they certainly have their place.

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