The Art of Probabilistic Meeting Times
I was writing an email to schedule a meeting this weekend when I had a revelation. Yes, a revelation, one that I’d like to share.
First, some background: people who know me will agree that I’ve got a real penchant for effective meetings. I like my meetings guided by agenda, focussed on outputs and outcomes, civil and with a definite end point.*
That dedication can turn me into a bit of a whip when it comes to starting on time, as the urgency helps teams build a culture that values the time spent in meetings and makes the most of it. Usually this approach is just fine, but sometimes starting a meeting on time is not an act of will as much as it is an allowance of probability.
That last part was the revelation. On small, agile teams, starting a meeting on time isn’t always possible or even desirable, as the team members wear several hats. Operations is one of those hats, and it’s all too common for small emergencies to take precendence and to derail that precious starting time. After being thrown off schedule, everything can fall apart and the next thing you know your meeting is taking place another day, with a loss of momentum.
So how do you schedule start times for agile teams? You don’t try to force it, that’s for sure. Instead, go with the reality you’re working in. I asked the team to expect a meeting of an hour or so in the early afternoon, and that we’d aim to begin between 1:00 and 1:30. Just before 1:00, I use instant messaging to feel out where the team is at in their day. Based on that we nail down a solid start time when everyone can set aside their work and focus on the meeting.
The result is that I’m not asking people to decide between two imperatives, and instead line them up in their proper order on the fly. As an aside, this is an example of where instant messaging can be a hugely productive tool on a team, better than email, the phone, and any project management tool.
This might seem obvious, but on small multitasking teams, coordinating to meet at specific times can be a challenge. The lesson here is that relaxing time to timeframe is a more humane and realistic way to organize people around the daily hurly burly of having development and operations in the same set of hands.
*For what I consider the gospel of running a good meeting, check out How to Make Meetings Work by Michael Doyle and David Strauss. Read this book on Tuesday and on Wednesday you can have a dramatically improved meeting experience. If it doesn’t work for you, I’ll personally buy your copy of the book for ten bucks.