🧐 agile monocle S01E02: Have you ever seen just about enough meetings?

Have you ever seen just about enough meetings?

If I had a penny for every time someone told me “We have too many meetings”…

Listen, I get it, but it’s like going to the doctor and saying “Doctor, doctor, my belly hurts!”: what you are describing is just a symptom, not the illness.

Symptoms can be described in different ways by different teams:

  • Too many Zoom calls!

  • Too many Slack channels!

  • Too many emails!

  • All of the above!

This is a better definition of symptoms, but they are once again just symptoms: these ones reveal a perceived imbalance in the ways a team or company communicates — meetings that should have been an email, emails that should have been chats, chats that should have been phone calls, phone calls that should have been documents.

🧐 Try this: count the number of meetings you had last week. From next week, start randomly canceling meetings. Continue with canceling meetings up until you reach the desirable amount of meetings. How do you feel?

No, I’m kidding, don’t do it, it doesn’t work that way and I doubt we will ever hear someone saying “We do the right amount of meetings”.

Correct, add, clarify

There is a lean metric which is very interesting if we apply it to the way in which we communicate, and it’s called Percent complete and accurate (%C&A).

Meaning, how much of our work can be considered complete without having to:

  • Correct information or material that we received and was incorrect

  • Add information that was lacking and should have been there

  • Clarify information which should have been clearer

When I hear “too many many meetings”, what I really hear is “we have to CAC (Correct, Add, Clarify) most of our information, most of the times”.

It fragments our work, it forces context-switching, it causes delays.

🧐 Try this: Think about how much information you received in the past week that you had to to correct, add or clarify. Was it 10%C&A, 50% or 90%? Maybe you have some phases of you work that have 0%C&A and other that have 90%, why is that?

Reduce your CAC levels

How to use CAC to improve our communication:

  • Correct information: incorrect information in somewhere inside or outside our team. We need to play detective and find out what is the source of incorrect information, and find a way to avoid having to correct this information over and over again. Share that you have corrected this information with everyone.

  • Add information: information was lacking, so there is partial information somewhere inside or outside our team. Again we have to play detective and maybe we’ll be a bit more lucky, we could already have a document which might be mostly correct, but it’s not up to date and complete. It might be a good chance to foster a recurring practice of keeping our information updated.

  • Clarify information: this is more a problem of clarity of information, maybe we do have a document or a knowledge base, and the information in both correct and complete, but the way it’s written is not understandable by everyone. Work on a glossary if it’s jargon-heavy, and make it “intern-proof” — meaning anyone seeing this information should understand it without any further background information.

🧐 Try this: think back at how many times you had to correct, add, clarify information during the past week. What’s the predominant mode: is it correction, adding or clarifying information? Take note about which of these happen most frequently and act accordingly.

CAC-driven meetings

Meetings are work, and knowledge work heavily depends on information sharing and not only on technical skills and individual labour: by improving meetings we reduce the delays and failures due to information sharing so that we can focus more on our individual, asynchronous work.

I won’t delve into when to use what communication channel and why in order to avoid meetings, but, if we really have to have a meeting (which, I should remind you, should be our last resort), let’s use CAC to improve our agenda and how the meeting is run.

1. Meeting titles

Titles are more important than we think. Don’t use generic titles. Learn from the click-baiting practices we see every day (“Three ways to improve our v1.4 authentication API, the second one will blow your mind!”). Make it specific. Recycle paper, plastic, aluminium: don’t recycle meetings’ titles.

Is it a meeting for correcting, adding or clarifying information? About what? With whom? Put it in the title. Being really specific about the topic of a meeting will make it shorter.

2. Agendas

Whether or not we could nail the subject of the meeting just with a fancy title, there’s no excuse for not having an agenda. Agendas are not hard: at its core, an agenda could be a list of questions that need answers.

Depending on the number and the type of questions, you’ll need to take care of the time-management for the meeting.

Collect a list of questions in advance, and put them in the agenda: don’t forget to classify them as Request for correction, Request for addition and Request for clarification.

Prioritize and time-box in advance as much as possible. A template for the agenda could be:

  1. Check-in (5’)

  2. Request for correction #1: [topic A] (5’)

  3. Request for correction #2: [topic B] (5’)

  4. Request for addition: [topic C] (5’)

  5. Request for clarification: [topic D] (5’)

  6. Follow-up actions (10’)

3. Actions

Don’t leave it to the spoken word. You had a meeting, you spoke about which information needed to be corrected, added or clarified, now you have to take action, which can be, surprise-surprise, of three types too:

  1. Information correction action
    Depending on the context, this might be one of the worst problems to be tackled. We have wrong information running freely and we have to spot the source, evaluate the impact and prepare for both correcting the wrong information and have a contingency plan for problems arising unexpectedly here and there until the correct information is known by everyone.

  2. Information addition action
    For example, we might have a double problem to be solved. One is adding the actual information where people would expect to find it, and two we might improve our practices of keeping our information up to date, by using lighter documentation format or taking time to recurrently work on information addition actions.

  3. Information clarification action
    For example, have a senior and junior team member work together in pair to find out the best wording or way to make the information more clear and update a document.

Use the type of action / what / who / when / deliverable scheme to keep track of the progress on this action. Put them in your to-do list or backlog if you have one (hint: you should).

If you find it useful and if you run it properly, you could also make your CAC meeting a recurring event. In one of the next episodes I might be writing about the topic on how you could avoid even these CAC meetings and what you could do instead.

What do you see?

This newsletter is about a monocle, not about a monologue. I want to hear from you so if you want to ask about anything or suggest a topic, you can reply to the newsletter, comment here below, or send a request here. I’d like to make it as much interactive as possible. Don’t make me open a Slack channel.

See you next week, agile monocle episode 3 will be out on Monday, September 28th.