Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Comments Are No Longer Moderated [Robert Lasater]

Comments are no longer moderated on this blog. That means you can enter a comment and it should appear immediately. You will have to pass a Turing Test (more accurately, a CAPTCHA test) to demonstrate you are indeed a human.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Newton’s 4th Law (of Meetings) [Tanya Berezin]

Some time ago I was taking over for a project manager who was leaving. We had a couple of days for the transition and we talked about all the things you’d expect: the current state of things, upcoming milestones, strengths and weaknesses of the team, partner relationships, and so forth. And, of course, she forwarded me the invitations to all of the standing meetings for the project.

There were daily meetings (two), weekly meetings (three or four), and monthly meetings (who’s counting!). I couldn’t attend them all even if I wanted to. It was impossible to know which meetings were important, they mostly sounded alike. I knew I had to clear my own and the team’s calendars so we could get work done.

I created a spreadsheet listing all meetings I knew about. For each, I asked the team to fill out several pieces of information:

1. What is the objective of the meeting?
2. What is the typical agenda?
3. Who runs the meeting? Who attends?
4. What is the frequency and duration of the meeting?

I saw three things, as I expected: more meetings got added to the spreadsheet – clearly, I didn’t catch every single one in my review; for many of the meetings no one could crisply state the objective; and the agendas and attendee lists tended to overlap quite heavily. Once I published the resulting list, it became clear to everyone that things needed to change.

I developed a proposal for the meeting structure going forward: removed obsolete meetings, consolidated repetitive ones, shortened the remaining ones, and trimmed the invitee lists. This, with some minor changes, was adopted by the team.

Newton’s first law of motion is: every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Substitute “meeting” for “object” and “recurring” for “state of uniform motion” and you get what I call Newton’s 4th law – a recurring meeting, once established, tends to go on forever, unless someone starts asking questions.

No one intends to create unnecessary or repetitive meetings – each one seems like a good idea at the time. After a while they outlive their usefulness but no one takes the trouble to notice and cancel them, so people continue to show up. If this is happening on your project, ask the questions above. You might gain a few hours to get something done.

Tanya Berezin is a successful software development leader who consistently delivers complex, bet-the business, need-it-yesterday projects. She enjoys building high-performing teams who delight customers with easy to use products. Find more information about her at