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:

  1. Simple Time Accounting. Count the number of people in a meeting and multiply by the time spent.  Eight people in a one-hour meeting is equivalent to one person being out of circulation. Adding in preparation time and travel time between meeting rooms the number gets larger.  I recently was in a meeting with 37 attendees that lasted 1.5 hours – about 7 people talked, lots of people did email, and the Scrum Master showed PowerPoints from each team. At 55 hours of time (a lot of it billable) was consumed in the meeting. 
  2. Return on Time Invested (ROTI).  I have used this metric as a tool to start a conversation about the value of meetings in a number of scenarios. The process is fairly simple, The facilitator asks the participants to vote on a scale of 1 (no value, this is a blank spot in my life) to 5 (high value, this was worth more than the time spent); Fist-to-Five is often used as a technique to vote. I have seen larger meetings use colored sticky notes to achieve the same outcome.  Meetings with a median response above a 3 (average value) are considered a good meeting, those with less than that require mitigation. 
  3. Meeting Net Promoter Score. This approach builds on the well known Net Promoter Score concept that has been used by organizations for years to measure interactions with clients. I use this for recurring meetings (sprint planning or demonstrations for example). In this case, meeting satisfaction is measured on a scale of 1 (horrible) – 10 (wonderful). (see Customer Satisfaction Metrics for a more in-depth discussion of the mechanics). Meetings with low net promoter scores need to be examined carefully.

Data is valuable because it can be gathered and reviewed, trends can be spotted, and it can supplant opinions in retrospectives (that is good). Retrospectives using even basic techniques such as the rose and thorn (what worked and didn’t) will help to identify improvement opportunities. Start by asking the people most impacted by meetings how to improve them once you have some data! 



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…)

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