How many times have you been to a meeting where people are seen working on their laptops or checking text messages where as one desperate looking host is seen doing all the talking, managing phone lines and asking questions. When a question needs to be answered, the host usually asks one of the persons behind the laptops, who first asks to repeat the question and then gives a throw away answer to go back to his ‘more important’ work on the laptop. The meeting audience in general shows the classic behavior that they’d rather be somewhere else than here.
Why is it so? This is because most of our day is spent in meetings and people don’t get time to finish their ‘real’ work. Therefore they bring their laptops to the meetings and try to do the ‘real’ work there while missing out on the subject on hand.
Therefore from my own experience, I have one sentence for you to make the meetings more effective. Get up, Stand up, stand up for your time.
That’s right. Stop arranging all those 1-hour-long meetings in the outlook and move towards arranging a daily 10-minute standup instead..
The idea is that people will come together for 10-min every day. They will stand for the duration of the meeting which will start and end on time. After the meeting ends, people will go back to do their ‘real’ work for rest of the day.
In a daily stand up all the attendees will give a 3-point update:
(i) What did I do yesterday
(ii) What will I do today
(iii) What help do I need to do my tasks today (impediments.)
The above 3-point talking agenda comes from the Scrum/agile methodology of daily meetings.
In the past 6 months, I’ve been part of 10-min stand ups on at least 3 projects. Following are my 10 observations, ‘hacks’ and best practices that I’ve collected from daily stand ups.
(1) People in a stand up are more engaged – as there is no distraction from electronic gadgets.
(2) It is easier to keep meetings on schedule because nobody wants to stand up for hours. It actually helps if chairs are removed from the stand up meeting area. Chairs should only be provided if someone has a special need to sit down.
(3) The core team must attend daily meetings otherwise the project manager will have to find the absentees and talk to them separately thus bringing down the overall efficiency of project team.
(4) It is ok to go out of script as needed. While the 3-point update works very well, there may be times when the PM has to ask more questions. Don’t be a slave to the format to the point that things don’t get done. Ask the necessary ‘why’ questions whenever it makes senses.
(5) Daily standups work very well for teams up to 6 to 8 members. For a larger team the ‘law of diminishing returns’ comes into play. My suggestion is to keep the core team size down to 6 to 8 people. For larger project core teams, go to ‘asynchronous’ status reporting via emails or by other electronic means e.g. a shared status report where everyone can write down their current status etc.
(6) Coming together face to face daily with your team members resolves issues quickly. When somebody talks about what help do they need today, more often than not help is found from within the people who are present.
(7) Teams get less distracted during the day as the project manager et-al get their information in 10 minutes and for rest of the day team members are not bothered.
(8) Not all meetings in a company should be of 10-min duration. There are occasions when longer meetings are necessary e.g. brain storming sessions, design reviews, failure mode analysis etc.
(9) If someone has to attend several 10-min daily meetings then it kills the purpose too. e.g. Someone attending 6 daily project meetings of 10 min each will spend same time in meetings as somebody attending 5 weekly project meetings of 1 hour duration. In such cases, the issue is most likely with resource loading i.e. if someone is seen attending several daily stand ups then they are probably overloaded.
(10) A chart or a white board is a necessity in a stand up meeting. It keeps team focused on tasks at hand. I usually track a month-long task list on a white board and for rest of the schedule I use MS Project or other electronic means.