When Agile teams start to plateau (or worse yet slide back to the old ways), I often hear this complaint:

“There is too much time in meetings with Agile Software Development, we give up!”

I usually follow that up with a question: What are you doing to fix that?

An overabundance of meeting time is a problem that many organizations face, but I’d argue that Agile practices are the solution instead of the cause. collab-explained

If I can get the team to ask me for suggestions, I always point them to my friend Jean Tabaka’s great reference book on running Agile meetings – called Collaboration Explained. But today I saw yet another wonderful nugget from Seth Godin about general meetings.

Seth Godin’s Suggestions on Serious Meeting Practices

Many of his suggestions relate to the practices of Agile and are disciplines we use at Rally to keep from meeting to death.  Seth’s portion in quotes below: 

  • Remove all the chairs from the conference room. I’m serious.
    New employees to an Agile team or company often laugh at the idea of a daily stand-up meeting, but literally standing during the meeting encourages people to be concise, attentive and then get on with their work. The best stand-ups at our company happen at around 9:00 am daily.
  • Understand that all problems are not the same. So why are your meetings? Does every issue deserve an hour? Why is there a default length?
    Agile helps us drive this discipline. Stand-up meetings are less than 15 minutes, iteration planning is a half-day for a new team and 1-2 hours for seasoned team.  Release planning is a 4 to 8 hours and my require a part of second day to handle dependencies across multiple synchronized teams. Allocate the right time for the right purpose, and bring in a professional Agile facilitator (or assign a neutral party from another department if you don’t have the budget) to keep the goals of the meeting moving. Having a agenda with time limits per section helps. So does a big buzzer (we have one of these at each table of attendees) to hit when people get off topic.
  • If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine of $10 to the coffee fund.
    We do this at our executive stand-up meetings (with a slightly lighter sentence), and recommend customers do the same. Late attendees pay $1; if you’re late AND the last one in the door, it’s $5.
  • “Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don’t, kick them out.”
    Before release planning, we create a collaborative web site where materials are stored. All pre-reading is assigned in advance, and all attendees have to load their slides to the site before the meeting begins. We even have a “no thumb drive” rule to discourage last-minute slide creation.

So what’s my point? Don’t blame the methods and practices for your lack of personal discipline and commitment to get better.

If you are going to win in this global economy, you have to find ways to constantly improve, and Lean and Agile development are proven cures. It is too easy to give up, so instead stand-up and, as Christopher Avery teaches, take some personal responsibility to make it better – start from within!

Do you have other meeting guidelines that you’ve used successfully? How much of your company’s meeting addiction gets blamed on Agile practices? How has your organization adapted to better meeting discipline?

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