Increase Communication by Having Fewer Meetings

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Increase Communication – Hold Frequent, Instant Meetings

Richard Sheridan Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Software project managers often fall into the deadly trap of regularly scheduling their teams for painful meetings that have the unfortunate, unintended effect of actually decreasing communications. One of the all-time dreaded meetings is the classic Monday morning status meeting. As if Mondays weren’t bad enough already!

If you aren’t convinced that most meetings should be killed, try this experiment. As the software project manager, don’t show up. Ask one of your trusted colleagues about the meeting you skipped. Did they hold it without you?

If the meeting only happens when the boss or project manager shows up, kill it. Your team is telling you they don’t get value out of it. Never hold meetings where only one person gets value.

At my organization, we do everything we can to eliminate unproductive meetings and replace them with simpler communication paths between team members. For example, we have the team work all day, every day, in one big open room with no walls, offices, cubes, or doors. Thus, when I need an answer from someone, I can simply say, "Hey, James." In less than 30 seconds, James and I have exchanged the necessary information and get back to work without actually moving (or sending e-mails back and forth).

Imagine an all-company meeting with 60 people, that is as easy to set up as shouting out “Hey, everybody!” Everyone stops what they are doing and responds, “Hey, Rich!”. The meeting can take a few, short minutes and then everyone turns back to work without moving from his/her seat.

Our rituals and ceremonies include weekly “Show & Tells” to demonstrate progress on projects to sponsors, weekly “Planning Games” to authorize project scope, daily stand-up meetings, and weekly kickoff meetings to brainstorm how we will work together towards common goals on client projects in the upcoming week. The meeting has a structure that makes participation easy and fun.

Try a daily standup meeting for one week and see if it catches on. Here are some lessons we’ve learned to make this meeting more effective.

1. Invite everyone involved in the project. We often have 50 to 60 people in this meeting.

2. Call the meeting with an alarm clock loud enough for everyone to hear. An impartial device calling the meeting is more likely to get participation. We use a dartboard that has an alarm clock in it.

3. Use a speaking token. We use a plastic Viking helmet to control the meeting. Just hand it around the circle of people STANDING (no sitting allowed). The person who has the token has the floor.

4. Have people report what they recently completed, what they are working on, and where they need help. Help doesn’t come during the meeting, but afterwards.

Our typical standup meeting takes 13 minutes! Call it, assemble it, hold it, give everyone a chance to talk, finish it, and get back to work in 13 minutes. I defy most organizations to complete a useful meeting of 60 people in 13 minutes.

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