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Meeting moratorium leads to unintended consequences

2010 September 3
by John

As a way to address the fact that everyone likes to be in the loop on a project, yet developers need to time to actually create the loop, the place where I work recently implemented a “meeting moratorium” for all developers in the company. As a standing rule, no one in the company should be scheduling a meeting from 8-1 on Tuesdays or Thursdays. You can if you must, but developers are permitted to decline the meeting at their discretion.

I’m a low-management style person, so I have to admit that at first I was a little skeptical. Why do we need a company-wide mandate to protect time each developer (or employee for that matter) should be able to protect on their own? Aside from that, all we’re doing is compressing the same number of meetings into fewer days aren’t we? And if you’re truly meeting every hour of every work day, then we’re guaranteeing projects will take longer to implement (although the development should be done more timely). It just felt like a solution for a symptom of poor personal time management, and didn’t like a “federal” approach to solving it. I should have been born in the south!

However, now that we’ve stuck with our program for a couple months I have noticed a few trends I consider unintended consequences. While I believe the solution may not have fit the actual problem, there are several positive elements that have bubbled to the surface, and I intend to preserve them!

Higher quality meetings

One of the more obvious ones is that we now tend to have higher quality meetings. If you can only “afford” to have one meeting, and you can only schedule an hour, people prepare for it. They read your agenda and material beforehand so they can provide thoughtful responses during the meeting. It doesn’t address post meeting action items, but accountability can deal with that. It also makes it easier to stay on topic and avoid rabbit trails since everyone has a vested interest in contributing for the only hour they may get to provide input!

There is more chatter about projects

What we in the meeting world call “talking offline” about a project happens much more often, out of necessity. You’ll tend to head over to someone’s office to check in on something instead of holding it until the meeting and causing a rabbit trail for your own specific question. IM, email, drive bys, phone calls all enhance the end product because everyone was involved without EVERYONE being involved. The meeting is then a re-alignment of the chatter with project vision and status updates.

More collaboration, less reading the document

Before the moratorium, most meetings were about reading the spec document and providing feedback. Or reading the requirements document and providing feedback. No one had prepared by reading it ahead of time, so the host wold peruse it with everyone and they would ask questions, provide input, or schedule another meeting about a side topic. Now, since people tend to come prepared (not always, but generally), there is more collaboration occurring and it feels like there is actual work getting done.

So while the intent was simply to prevent developers from getting inundated with meetings, the outcome actually accomplished a whole lot more. As an added bonus, since our meetings are a lot more productive we have a lot less of them… leaving even MORE time for our developers to get their work done.

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