Ruthless Meetings

Ruthlessness has always had a bad rap.  There is a thought that being ruthless is uncaring or cold.  However, being ruthless is a virtue when it comes to staying on track to meet project deadlines.  A current client of mine often has one hour meetings in which, after 20 minutes and the pertinent topics having been resolved, everyone in the meeting is obviously trying invent new off-agenda topics to discuss.  The sole purpose of these discussions is to avoid having to go back to the desk to do actual work.

The better approach to these event is to be ruthless.  The meeting organizer should end the meeting immediately after the topic has been resolved.  It’s often a better practice to prepare the meeting agenda, estimate how long it will take the to have the meeting, then schedule only that amount of time.  As a mentor once told me:  “Only schedule the meeting once you don’t need the meeting”.  She was referring to a simple process which avoids any time wasting:

  1. Decide and publish the agenda before the meeting
  2. Get a consensus agreement among individuals before the meeting
  3. Schedule the meeting for 30 minutes tops
  4. Present the consensus agreement during the meeting.

A phrase I like to use is “Never have a cold meeting”.  I will not attend any meeting which do not have a published agenda or which I have not had any communication regarding the expected outcome of the meeting.

It’s a ruthless approach.  However, it’s well within the goals of the agile principles of valuing working products over process.  Time spent developing higher quality software is much more important than almost anything else.  Remember, we value working software over extensive documentation… or extensive meetings.   

Wm. Barrett Simms
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