Increasingly, projects teams are dispersed and may be working not only in different cities but potentially in different countries, continents, and time zones. Working in a dispersed team undoubtedly creates additional challenges when facilitating requirements elicitation sessions. In fact, people may even have an initial reluctance to attend virtual meetings.
These challenges certainly aren’t insurmountable, and here are some concrete tips that can help:
- Think “high fidelity”: Where appropriate, plan to use the highest fidelity meeting technology that’s available to you. Clearly a face-to-face meeting is the highest level of fidelity, but if that isn’t practical, consider a videoconference. If not, a web conference might be appropriate alongside a regular teleconference.
- Have a clear agenda: Yes, it’s a cliché isn’t it. All meetings must have an agenda, but it is even more important for virtual meetings. Not only will this help to focus your mind as the facilitator, it also will set a clear expectation up front of what will be discussed.
- Set rules up front: It’s really important to set the ground rules up front. When there is a teleconference element to your meeting, be sure to ask attendees to mute when they aren’t speaking and to announce their name before they speak. Eureaka Conferencing provides an excellent sample set of rules that you may wish to refer to.
- Keep it short: Requirements elicitation sessions take real focus and energy on the part of the attendees, and this is just as much the case for virtual meetings. It’s better to have a series of short meetings rather than one long virtual meeting—this will keep the energy level high.
- Use visuals to guide attendees: Whatever technology you’re using, try to use visual aids. If you’re restricted to teleconferencing only, you could send a presentation deck in advance. If you have access to web conferencing, you have much greater flexibility. Where possible, use the visuals to guide your audience through the agenda so they know where they are, to capture actions, and to park any items that require attention later.
- Be engaging and assume your attendees are multitasking: However much we might want our virtual meeting attendees to be purely focused on our meetings—and however clearly we set the ground rules—they might still be tempted to check email now and again. One survey cited on the SmartPros website found that 45 percent of executives admitted to regularly multitasking during virtual meetings. Encourage participation by asking questions, and if an attendee seems particularly quiet, find ways to engage him.
- Send the evidence: As soon as possible after the meeting, send a summary of actions and decisions to the attendees.
With careful preparation, facilitation, and appropriate use of technology, virtual meetings can be an incredibly productive use of time.
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Adrian Reed is a consulting lead business analyst and principal consultant and director at Blackmetric Business Solutions, where he helps organizations solve their pressing problems. Adrian also speaks internationally, trains, and consults on business analysis and business change-related topics. Read his blog at adrianreed.co.uk.