Meetings


Dirty glasses at a bar

I thought you were taking notes!

A Korn Ferry survey indicated that 67% of respondents felt that they are spending too much time on meetings and calls which “distract from making an impact at work.” Many organizations have tried to rein in meetings by trying tactics like no meeting days to increase focus time. It is a shame that the idea has not caught on. On a personal level, I habitually block chunks of my calendar to ensure I can not be automatically booked into meetings. Note, the Korn Ferry survey indicates that 35% of people invited to a meeting they feel will be unproductive still accept and attend. We need to fix this productivity sink. Measurement is table stakes for change. A few simple measurement approaches that are useful for beginning a dialogue are: (more…)

 

It’s 6:30 PM, you are getting ready to shut the computer down and take the long commute to the kitchen (if you reading this in 2021 lookup COVID-19), should you call a meeting for tomorrow morning or not? It is decision time. If we overlook the probability that no one will be able to do the prework and you might not have an agenda close at hand, our simple checklist can steer you away from meetings where they do not make sense. (more…)

A Real Hangout Is Not A Toxic Meeting!

In some organizations meeting culture is out of control or, worse yet, toxic. In order to see how bad the situation is, measure the problem. One simple measure to understand how much of a workweek that is consumed by meetings is to calculate a burden rate (burden rate generally is the amount of non-engineering time divided by the total time expended on a project or sprint). In this case, we are focused on meetings rather than all of the non-engineering activities. For software or hardware teams I would not count specific working sessions such as pair or mob programming “meetings” — these are engineering activities that are specifically designed to develop functionality. I would, however, count all of the classic Scrum ceremonies. To get a sense of the range of possible levels of meeting burdens teams have to live with, I asked five different friends (a combination of project managers or Scrum Masters) to estimate the meeting burden rate for their entire team.  (more…)

A complex topic!

I overheard a conversation, in the old days when people worked in offices with other people, in which someone was asked whether they should have a meeting to discuss a topic. The response, dripping with sarcasm, was something along the lines of “sure, meetings are my favorite pastime.” The same week I heard someone tell a direct report that office time was for meetings and after-hours was time to get everything else done — I know the two people involved and this was only a little tongue in cheek. Meetings often seem to consume whole days. A study by The Muse indicates that organizations consume 15% of their total time in meetings. Even if the statistic is wrong by a little, most of the people I interact with believe they spend too much time in meetings. Part of the issue is that meetings have become a currency that people use to measure importance, therefore lots of meetings occur for the wrong reasons. Rather than focusing on the bad reasons, five good reasons to have a meeting are: (more…)

A mad house or a meeting?

Depending on whom you ask and/or when you ask, meetings are a bane or boon.  Scrum practitioners often call the standard meetings ‘ceremonies’. The term confers a huge amount of gravitas to events that are just meetings.  What sets them aside from many run-of-the-mill conference calls is their explicit purpose.   (more…)

Meetings are more than just a gathering of people.

Meetings are the most important event in any organization — well that is what it seems like.  It can also be said that meetings are the bane of every human that isn’t buying or selling something (and that caveat might be an overstatement). There is an enormous amount of literature purporting to deliver effective meetings.  If we use the simple Daily Scrum as an example even what should be straightforward wander off course if participants use the meeting for more than it was intended. A quick query of internet sources suggests that there are anywhere from 6 to 16 types of meetings. The most common meeting types in software-centric organizations are: (more…)

Ruins of Willkarakay

Telling stories is a natural human activity from time immemorial.  Creating a succinct and informative story to describe a business need or the future of an organization is challenging.  Stories are not bulleted presentation slides, although those tools can be used.  Rather stories at this level are longer narratives, or at the very least they are like the paintings in Lascaux Caves which evoke a longer narrative. Narrative storytelling is not a tool typically found or appreciated in status meetings, the process of building a narrative that describes a business need or the journey an organization must take to achieve a goal often needs facilitation.  Three facilitation tools are commonly used to help a team or an individual to build a story in a business environment. They are: (more…)

Stories help you visualize your goals

Stories help you visualize your goals

In the Harvard Business Review article, The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool by Harrison Monarth (March 11, 2014), Keith Quesenberry notes:

People are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.

The power of storytelling is that it helps us understand each other and develop empathy. Storytelling is a tool that is useful for presentations, but also to help people frame their thoughts and for gathering information. A story provides both a deeper and more nuanced connection with information than most lists of PowerPoint bullets or even structured requirements documents. Here are just a few scenarios (other than presentations) where stories can be useful: (more…)

A puzzle and patterns have a lot in common.

A puzzle and patterns have a lot in common.

Stories are a tool to help structure information so that audiences can easily consume them. They help presenters make sure their message stays front and center so it can be heard. While many presentations and stories in the corporate environment use the metaphor of a journey, some are best represented in other ways. Other patterns are useful both to fit other circumstances or as a tool to inject a bit of variety into presentation heavy meetings. (Just how many journeys can you take in any one meeting?) (more…)

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The Mountain is one example of a journey-based story structure.

Presentations are a story that the presenter is sharing with an audience, and any good story has a beginning, middle and an end. All too often the beginning is a slide that has an agenda, the middle is slide after slide of data and the end is a slide titled conclusion or questions.  Across that arc, the presenter seeks to inspire, informs or persuade. A better approach is to use one of the tried and true story structures. A story structure is often a useful tool to ensure the audience stays attentive and hears the specific points the presenter is trying to make. The presentation does not need to be the next The Lord of the Rings, but you could or should emulate those plot patterns.

The Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey is one of the most common story structures. The monomyth is cyclical story structure in which a hero team embarks on a journey and then returns when successful. It describes where the journey started, the trials along the way, the goal that was attained and the steps to move forward after the goal has been met. The hero’s journey was originally introduced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). It is a broad narrative structure that can be used when the presenter is leveraging a journey metaphor, one of the most commonly used stories in business and conference presentations.  The journey is commonly used to describe process improvement, methodology adoptions or business transitions. I tend to leverage a version of the monomyth pattern described by Christopher Vogler that has twelve steps in order to provide a journey type of structure to relevant presentations. (You can view a recent example of how I applied the monomyth to a presentation in Discover The Quality of Your Testing Process). Reflect on every adventure movie you have ever seen and you will recognize the pattern. Even in a business environment, audiences are very comfortable with this approach because they have been trained to recognize the pattern.

Similar Journey Story Narratives:

Freytag’s Pyramid is a structure that follows a similar pattern of rising action climax, falling action followed by final release. This pattern is commonly used in commercials to hold attention (here is an example). In this pattern, the protagonist doesn’t need to return to complete the cycle, but the problem does need to be solved. I often use Freytag’s Pyramid as a guide to ensure short presentations have a plot.

The Mountain begins by describing a current state, showing how challenges are overcome as the story moves away from the current state towards a conclusion/climax, followed by falling action. The most significant difference between the Hero’s Journey and the Mountain is that in the Mountain the conclusion does not have to be positive. For example, the Harry Potter series would have been much less of a Hero’s Journey and more of a Mountain if Voldemort had won. Similarly, the mountain would be a good structure to use to describe an Agile adoption journey that ended in implementing a new waterfall methodology. 

It is easy to see how to use the journey story narratives to tell a story of great quest; however, in a business environment, journey story narratives have a wide range of uses.  Some of the typical business uses are:

  • Establish that change has happened in an organization.
  • Make sure that the audience understands that the progress made was not easy.
  • Show that taking a risk had benefits.
  • Identify the source of new information and knowledge.

 Story patterns like the Hero’s Journey, Freytag’s Pyramid or the Mountain can be used to guide how we deliver information. Story patterns are often useful because they help the audience consume the presentation’s message. Whether a presentation is developed to inspire, inform or persuade, if the presentation does not connect with the audience then the time and effort for all parties are wasted.

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