TITLE: Cutting Back on Meetings, Agile-Style AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 07, 2010 10:19 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Early this morning, @kevinrutherford tweeted:
Permanently replaced a 10-person 1-hour weekly meeting with an ad-hoc stand-up and a status wall #win
I couldn't get this message out of my mind all day. On a very small scale, daily stand-up meetings did just what they needed to do in my recent agile development course: keep team members apprised of what everyone was accomplishing and, occasionally, what stood in peoples' way. A story board and a somewhat lame burndown chart put the daily reports in context. I can see how this approach works so well with agile teams, especially ones with open, steady communication channels and a lot of trust. Many people like to group meetings into categories, but my experience as university department head says that, when it comes to meetings, there are also two kinds of people: those who like them and get things done via them, and those who don't. My snarkiest faculty colleagues and software developer friends will label these groups "those who waste time" and "those who get real work done", but that's not fair. I've had to participate in a lot of meetings on campus over the last five years, with faculty, staff, and administrators at various levels of the organization chart. I've had to chair my my fair share as well. I bump into many of the same people over and over again on different committees, and it's clear that many of those people have found ways to make such meetings productive, even helpful checkpoints in the doing of real work. Some even enjoy the meetings. How can this be? Are my snarky colleagues right, and the people who enjoy meetings are simply killing time that could be spent better elsewhere? I don't think so. Different people in the organization are assigned different tasks. When the task requires the synthesis of an understanding or a plan that will be held in common across a large organization, it requires collaboration. When it requires compromise among strongly-held competing viewpoints of the world, it requires conversation -- and sometimes lots of it. I have found that it is a good thing that different people in the organization have different working styles, because without them a lot of this sort of work would never get done. In the end, this comes down to more than different working styles. Different people have different values, and different ways they hope to contribute to the group's success. Paul Graham commented in one of his essays that meetings are easy work compared to the challenge of making things. As a creator of programs and a writer of blog entries, I know what he means. I rarely exercise my intellect in a meeting the way I exercise it while trying to figure out if the accounts in my bookkeeping software should be composite objects, or if composite debit/credit values will suffice. But sometimes a meeting can prepare me to tackle a tough writing task, such as drafting a report to the president that conveys a strong plan for moving his IT operation forward. When a task falls inside the bounds of a group's common values and beliefs, meetings often are not necessary. When they fall outside the intersection, people need to talk to one another. The conversation is itself part of the work that needs to be done. The reason Rutherford's tweet won't leave me alone is that I keep fantasizing what it would be like to replace all or even some of my department's faculty meetings with something more agile. Our nine-person faculty usually meets bi-weekly for an hour or so. Most everyone grumbles at having to meet, even when we have decisions to make. If we could replace even half our meetings with an occasional ad-hoc stand-up meeting and a status wall that kept us all on track doing what we needed to do, what a glorious #win that be! Now, to figure out which meetings to replace, and how... -----