Monday, August 24, 2009


I found this note while cleaning up. I think it's a summary of John Cleese's short movie "Meetings Bloody Meetings".
  1. Plan. Why are we meeting? What's the purpose? What are the subjects?
  2. Inform. Tell the attendees what, why and the expected outcome.
  3. Prepare. Create an agenda, with a time line, and the items to be covered.
  4. Structure. If the purpose is to make a decision, this involves presentation of evidence, interpretation of the evidence and a decision. If the purpose is to inform, then present the information.
  5. Summarize and Record.
I hear complaints about time wasted in meetings. This complaint is absolutely justified. I've wasted a lot of my professional career in dumb meetings.

Out of Touch Management. The out-of-touch manager requires long meetings in which each direct report provides a complete status report. The all-hands meeting appears to be the only time the out-of-touch manager ever talks to anyone. Consequently, it devolves to a sequence of one-on-one meetings which the rest of the team is forced to attend.

If the goal is for many people to inform one person, those conversations don't require a meeting.

Going Through The Motions. The going-through-the-motions manager is aware that a staff meeting is expected, but has nothing really to say or do. These meetings often devolve into awkward silences as open-ended questions are thrown out to try and stimulate some interaction.

If there's no goal (no decision, no information) then there's no purpose for the meeting.

Best Practice.

In the days before agility, I worked with two project managers who gathered information in one-on-one meetings. These are separate projects for separate customers. But the same best practice.

The PM would stop by your cube, figure out what you were doing, what you needed, what you were planning to accomplish. Then, at the ever-so-brief staff meeting, a few key interactions among the staff would be lifted up from all those one-on-one meetings.

Let's review the brilliance of these two PM's.
  1. They stopped by your cube. They did not play the power game and make you come to their office. They stopped by. In later years this was called "Management by Walking Around" -- something hailed as brilliant. These PM's just did it.
  2. They hung around long enough to actually get what was going on. They didn't waste time asking you to write and email status to them. They asked, listened, understood and summarized your status for you.
  3. They recognized the needs for interaction and made them happen. The status meetings were like daily scrum meetings. Since they were weekly, they weren't as brief, but they were just as focused. No long status reports. No long conversations.

Some managers don't have time to sit in everyone's cubicle. This overstates their value as managers by understating the huge cost of wasting everyone's time in serial one-on-one's done in a conference room. 12 direct reports means 13 man-hours wasted in a one hour meeting.

Some managers don't have time to write status reports. Instead they forward emails all day.
It's probably better to get off the email treadmill. Get status, write short, to-the-point status reports.


Developers (DBA's, Sys Admins, all technical folk) live in a world of technology delivery.

Mangers, however, live in a world of budgets, status reports, and weird exercises in foretelling the future. ("How long will it take? How much will it cost?")

There's no good reason to impose the world of status reporting and fortune-telling on technical people. There are, however, lots of bad reasons for imposing unplanned, unprepared and unstructured meetings on a team that would rather be building product than talking about building product.