Wednesday, January 27, 2016

You Can Have Better Agile Meeting

Are people in your organization talking about how inefficient meetings are?

Are Project Managers and business leaders curious about the effectiveness of so many agile meetings: Daily Standup, Planning, Backlog Grooming, Review, Retrospective?

Agile meetings are usually above and beyond technical design meetings, architecture meetings, monthly department meetings and possibly meetings with external consultant or clients.
It’s clear there are a lot of meetings in the corporate world and which means there are a lot of opportunities for waste and inefficiency.

When business leaders in my organization began to wonder about the numerous meetings my agile teams conduct, I usually point back to the fact that we deliver high quality and reliable features every two weeks and before agile development was introduced, the development cycle was long and the quality was inconsistent.

But even with the introduction of the agile process and the revolutionary results it brings, you still should consider the efficiency of your meetings.

There are a couple rules of thumb for meeting duration. In scrum there are time boxes for everything.  And a time box is intended to be A hard stop.  The time box reinforces the dead-line focus of everything the team does.
The official Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland only gives guidance for 4-week long sprints. Below are extrapolations I’ve done for 2 weeks sprints, a very popular industry practice.

For a 2-week sprint, if those 77 hours are not well managed, they could easily be wasted.

Avoid meeting waste. Follow a meeting process:

Keep to your time box and, if you constantly goof it up, fix the core issue.  Usually the core issues are  lack of planning before hand or lack of focus during the meeting.

For things like retrospective, I highly recommend a well defined meeting process. Retrospectives are intended to be creative and can be very long and chaotic if you don’t have a specific goal and a means to get there.

If you really want to knock meetings out of the park with super efficiency,  I describe a system in my article, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life with Meeting Facilitation (aka Meeting Magic)

Check out all 9 articles in my series of Better Meeting Magic:
  1. Planning - Improve Your Focus and Improve Your Teams Performance in Meetings
  2. Opening - Turn Tough Meetings into Successful Outcomes With an Excellent Plan and Meeting Kickoff That Creates Focus
  3. Bias Check - Change People’s Preconceptions and Prejudice into Powerful Learning Activities in Your Toughest Meetings
  4. Brainstorming - In a Meeting What is Best for Creative Problem Solving? Total Freedom or Well Defined Process?
  5. Narrowing - How to Find Great Ideas from a Massive Sea of Brainstorming Information
  6. Deciding - Always Enter a Meeting with a Goal, Always Leave a Meeting with a Decision
  7. Retrospective - Learn from the Past to Make the Future Better
  8. Closing - End a Meeting with The Confidence That Everyone Knows The Path Forward
  9. Followup - Close the Open Loops: Keep Track of Your Meeting Outcome and Follow-up
Some would say the best way to reduce meeting waste is too eliminate them.  That may be true, but you don’t get a team working in one homogenous and efficient direction without some sort of coordination and collaboration.  Meetings don’t have to be the ONLY way. I do find that effective meetings move people toward the goal faster than impromptu communication.

Please let me know how you keep from wasting time in agile meetings.  Post a comment or send me an e-mail.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Close the Open Loops: Keep Track of Your Meeting Outcome then Followup

As a parent I understand the extensive effort in following up on chores and tasks.  Its time consuming to audit the quality of a job after the bathroom has been “cleaned” by a teenager or the room has been “cleaned” by the middle schooler.

As a project manager keeping track of numerous commitments and an extraordinary number of moving parts is also on the order of difficult and time consuming. 

Recently I completed a key milestone for one of my projects. The project required the collaboration of multiple departments, multiple distributed teams and external contractors (including managed service partners for those of you who know what that is).  The gist of the project was to replace an aging database infrastructure with the latest hardware and latest release of database software.

The process took months of preparatory work and collaboration.  It started 3rd quarter 2015 and culminated in a successful cutover on 7 Jan 2016.

In order to make this happen I provide a lot of oversight and I facilitated numerous meetings. I highlight only a few of the key of meeting below:
  • 1 day facilitated session with consultant to create a new architecture
  • 1/2 day facilitated session to create a step-by-step plan for the upgrade
  • 2 hour facilitated session with IT security and networking team to identify all networking and security changes
  • 1 hour planning session for the week of the upgrade
  • 15 minute weekly meetings with external DBA consultant
  • 15 minute daily standup during the week of the upgrade
  • 2 1/2 hour cutover conference call with the multiple teams and external partners participating
  • (It went super smooth by the way)
This project required a lot of hard work by many technical folks and those technical guys deserve kudos’ for their efforts.  I’m highlighting the meetings because I am about to give some tips to on how to take these key meeting events and get the most of them through good follow-up.

In my previous article, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life,” I introduced Better Meeting Magic, a way to change the culture and productivity of a team, department, division or company that embodies the spirit of collaboration, inclusiveness and focus.
This installment is all about FOLLOW-UP:

Here are my tips to following up: 

Tip #1: Get the minutes out as fast as possible

To enable faster minutes capture, use visible formats such at sticky notes or a whiteboard. I describe some options for highly visual collaboration in the article, “In a Meeting What is Best for Creative Problem Solving? Total Freedom or Well Defined Process?”. 

When the meeting is done, you the following apps to take pictures and send them to yourself and/or the meeting participants.
  • Microsoft Office Lens - best for whiteboard with drawings
  • Post-it Note(r)  Plus - best for anything with post-it notes of any size and also 8x10 or 11x17 pieces of paper

Tip #2: Get the next step or meeting schedule as soon as possible

At work I use Microsoft Outlook for e-mail and meetings. When I get back from my current meeting and I need to schedule a followup meeting, I will do one of two things:
  1. Write an e-mail to myself to schedule the next meeting and put it into my GTD ‘!Action’ folder (I actually have Outlook rule that automatically puts the e-mails from me and to me into my !Action’ folder)
  2. or simply schedule the next meeting right when I sit down at my desk.

Tip #3: Make sure you have a good capture-processing-resolution system in place

I use Getting Things Done by David Allen as my capture-processing-resolution system.  If you read more about GTD, you’ll find it’s actually got 5 phases of processing for everything in your life. 

In the previous tip I hinted at my GTD system for schedule a followup meeting. I use that same system for capturing and executing all actions. I use David Allen’s suggested e-mail boxes called ‘!Action’, ‘!WaitingFor’ and ‘!ReadReview’.  I also take any date sensitive actions and create an ‘all day’ meeting on my calendar.  The ‘all day’ meeting shows on the calendar as a small banner for the day it’s due. To make it easy to create these calendar banners, I created a Outlook quick access rule to copy e-mail contents to calendar appointments, so I can execute this whole step in 1-click. 

In the morning and many times throughout the day and in the evening, I review the calendar, the !Action folder and !WaitingFor folder and make sure I follow-up and I ping other people to follow-up as well.

Close your Open Loops and Use good meeting practices coupled with GTD to succeed in your work and at home.

Having problems with follow-up?  Share our issue in the comments or send me an e-mail. I’ll be glad to talk about it with you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

End a Meeting with The Confidence That Everyone Knows The Path Forward

Today I was in a meeting that was intended to be 15 minutes long.  It started late, about 6 minutes past the hour, and got off to a rocky start due to technical issues with conference software.  Many of the participants often get side tracked with deeply technical concerns or quandaries about corner cases.  In fact, I think it was probably about 20% focused on executing the project (the stuff I wanted) and 80% of the discussion was what-if scenarios or providing context for different meeting participants.

Interestingly, the meeting lasted about 25 minutes, and in percentages, the overage was about average for this group of very talented and highly responsible staff.  They have an incredible sense of ownership for their work and as a result, they want to know all the details of pretty much every decision. Especially when it comes to technical decisions that are near or directly inline with their sphere of influence.  Good folks.

Was this meeting wasteful? Perhaps.  But it was successful because I got a list of actions assigned to specific people and I scheduled a daily standup meeting to follow up and insure everything got done.  There was no ambiguity about what needed to happen or who was going to do it.  To me, leaving a meeting with zero or very little ambiguity is a sign of successful outcome.

When you terminate a meeting you need to put an end to ambiguity.  In Better Meeting Magic vocabulary this step is called CLOSING.  Read more about the whole Better Meeting Magic planning paradigm in the article, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life with Meeting Facilitation (aka Meeting Magic).”

Effective CLOSING removes three primary sources of ambiguity:

1) “What did we decide?” or “WHAT” ambiguity,

2) “Who will do it? or “WHO” ambiguity

3) “Will we discuss this again?” or “OPEN LOOP” ambiguity

Tip #1: Kill “WHAT” Ambiguity by Reiterating the Decision and Asking for Confirmation

Destroy ambiguity in every meeting by reiterating orally what you’ve decided to do and ask the participants to confirm the decision.  Example: At the end of the meeting you could say, “The goal of our meeting was to: ‘Decide on a database vendor’.  And I believe we’ve decided to move ahead with vendor XYZ to support our database infrastructure.  Did I capture that correctly?”

By reiterating the meeting goal and the decision, you will likely get the last minute ‘NO WAY’ or you’ll get everyone nodding their head.  If you have dissenting opinions, that’s good because you need to know where you stand before you leave the meeting with a false sense of doneness. If you have consensus, this decision is made and will likely stick.  

Tip #2: Annihilate “WHO” Ambiguity by Assign Actions to Specific People in the Meeting

Destroy “WHO” ambiguity by making sure you have a assignee on each action.  It's good to assign action in the meeting so the assignees can review the action and possibly ask clarifying questions before the team disperses.

This creates a more sticky sense of ownership.  A responsible assignee will try to understand the expectation through dialog.  An unwilling assignee will have the accountability of the group.

Add due dates to further eradicate ambiguity.

Tip #3: Short Circuit “OPEN LOOP” Ambiguity by Picking the Next Meeting Time Before You Leave the Current Meeting

Obliterate “OPEN LOOP” ambiguity by asking the participants whether the topic is closed or there are still more to address. As you develop skills in planning your meetings, you will likely see less carry-over meetings because your planning and time management will enable you to reach decision in a single meeting.

For details on good planning tactics, see the article, “Improve Your Focus and Improve Your Teams Performance in Meetings.” 

One of the most frustrating things in any business environment is to see good ideas die on the vine.  When everyone is busy and there are tough topics left unresolved, people feel weighed down and a natural response to “embrace the status quo”.  

In simple language, “embracing the status quo” is just failing to put enough energy into following up on the tough topics.  In reality it doesn’t require supreme amounts of energy to conduct a follow-up meeting, but the emotional resistance is high.  

When I’m heading for bed and I know I’ll be getting up early the next day to take a run in freezing cold weather I can prime myself for success by putting out my running clothes and running shoes on the floor of my bathroom.  Somehow this routine removes some of the friction of getting up early and taking a run.  

Use this priming strategy to overcome the “OPEN LOOP” ambiguity by making the next meeting plan during the current meeting.  

BTW, if you want to learn lots about how to deal with open loops in your personal and work life, read Getting Things Done by David Allen. His productivity strategy will help eradicate ambiguity in all corners of your world.

I’d like to know if you have applied any of these techniques.  Or perhaps you have some of your own.

Please write a comment about your best tools for overcoming meeting ambiguity.  

Or get in touch with me on my Contact page to talk about your latest meeting success.