Successful Development Meetings Redux

"As usual, the idealists are 100% right in principle and, as usual, the pragmatists are right in practice. The flames will continue for years.
This debate precisely splits the world in two. If you have a way to buy stock in Internet flame wars, now would be a good time to do that."
-- Joel Spolsky on IE 8.0 and standards


Well, I just sat through a two plus hour meeting that went right through the normal lunch hour. You know what happens to your productivity when you've been sitting in the same chair for over two hours and you are hungry and the hell with lunch and other perfectly civil human needs, we're gonna finish this meeting if it takes until 10PM tonight, right?

Time for a refresher on something I wrote about back in 2001: How to hold a successful development meeting.  The first and best way is NOT to have a physical meeting at all. In this day of intranet discussion groups, Instant Messaging, Remote Desktopping, email distribution lists and other excellent means of group information dissemination, if you are charged with deciding on holding a meeting then the very FIRST THING that should go through your mind is "Do I really need to have a "meeting"? Is there a more efficient way to promulgate (and receive ) this information? Very often, there is.

Problem is, human nature (especially with Manager types)  is -- "Oh- I better schedule a meeting" in response to needs or problems. Good God, man! Meetings often make problems worse because they drain time that could be spent making decisions!

Having said all this, there are some finer points that make this necessary evil shorter and more productive for everyone:



1) All meetings should have a stated start and end time, and stick to those times religiously. You will gain the respect and admiration of your peers, superiors, and subordinates if you do this. Remember that the average attention span of a human being is about 45 minutes (and that's provided they aren't HUNGRY!) If your meeting (which probably shouldn't have been called in the first place, remember?) has to run more than 45 minutes, man, you better have a good reason for it!

2) Every meeting should have a specific agenda, and that agenda should be distributed to all participants ahead of time, either via email or other written communication. With a track to run on, your meeting will, by its very nature, be more productive and there will be less chance of throwing it "off course" on some unrelated side topic for 30 to 45 minutes. Especially if there are participants who "like to hear themselves talk".

3) Handle off-topic and off-agenda items properly. If somebody has a valid concern, but it is not germane to the specific subject and agenda, offer to hear the item AFTER the meeting so everybody else can get BACK TO WORK.

4) Provide a meeting summary to all participants, and invite feedback. Get somebody to take notes during the meeting, type them up, and send out an email to all the participants. This follows the age-old speaking formula, "Tell-'em what you're going to tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em." This provides benefits in terms of communications continuity that can pay big dividends over time, and foster a more productive group mentality.

5) Only invite participants who need to be present. I cannot count the number of meetings I have been asked to attend where 11 or even 15 people were asked to drop their work to be present at a meeting where 90% or more of the actual work could have been effectively handled by only three of the people in attendance, and the rest kept informed via email. Think about it. Are you calling 155 people into a meeting because they are all relevant to what is supposed to be accomplished, or are we doing this to exercise our "ego"?

If I'd been paid a dollar for every meeting I've had to attend that accomplished little or nothing of value other than to make one or two people feel like they had accomplished something, I wouldn't have to write a single line of code, ever.

Well, I'm sorry but I have to cut this rant short -- I'm late for another meeting...