No More Bad Meetings

March 15, 20133 min

My friend, colleague and mentor, Tobias Mayer, has new post out today discussing a common complaint I also hear about Scrum – “too many meetings”.  I especially liked the way that he confronted the problem by asking the Team members the percentage value received by each of the Scrum meetings.  I think it is especially enlightening that both Sprint Planning and the Retrospective are the least valuable for the Team he talked with.  I suspect if you asked other Scrum Teams, you would come up with similar results.

As I think about Tobias’s conclusion – there are too many ineffective meetings –  I wonder if many people even know what an effective meeting looks like?  Most importantly, do ScrumMasters know what effective and collaborative meetings look like?  I know that I did not when I was doing ScrumMaster work for the first time and one of the best books I found to help me learn more about the topic of effective meetings was Jean Tabaka’s, Collaboration Explained.  In this book, Jean explains there are five steps (six if you include setting-up the room) to have an effective meeting.

  1. Identify the sponsor.  This is real simple, but you need to ask, “Who wants this meeting held?”  In Scrum, the sponsor of many of the meetings is the Team.
  2. Determine the purpose of the meeting.  This is really the most important step since the purpose defines an outcome that both the sponsor and the participants agree would be a good investment of time.  If the purpose does not justify the investment of time, don’t have the meeting.
  3. Select the participants.  In order for a meeting to be effective, we need to understand who needs to be there, why and what role they will play in the meeting.  I might be stating the obvious, but only select participants that have something to contribute to the purpose of the meeting.  A lot of people we make optional to meetings really only need a summary of the key discussion points and action items after the meeting is over.
  4. Create the agenda in the form of a series of questions that progressively bring us closer to achieving the meeting purpose.  Questions are superior to a list of bullet points since they encourage dialogue and help people understand why they are discussing a topic.
  5. Interview the meeting participants at least one day in advance of the meeting.  This step is essential since you want to make sure the meeting participants understand what is the purpose and agenda for the meeting, why they were selected to attend, what their role will be, what sort of pre-work they will need to do (if any).  In addition, pre-meeting interviews validate the meeting purpose and agenda, confirm the attendance list and unearth any hidden agendas that might exist.

I know this is a lot of work to do and it is so much easier to just create a meeting invite in Outlook, pick some attendees and then hit “Send”.  But if you do not follow these steps, then you are setting the Team up to have ineffective meetings and diminish their ability to collaborate.