Beware of Serial Status Meetings
I was coaching a new client. He’s a senior guy with several directors reporting to him. He had stopped his staff meetings for a while because no one wanted to participate. Hmm.
I almost asked him why, but he kept talking.
“What do you think of this format for my staff meeting?
- Everyone does a standup, sort of like a scrum of scrums, explaining what their group has done over the last week, including their obstacles. That’s five minutes each.
- Then we attack the obstacles, one at a time.
- Then we talk about the problems in the organization.”
“I think no one will participate after the first meeting, that’s what I think,” I replied. “You’ve got yourself a really great serial status meeting. Will you serve doughnuts?”
He was silent. Did I mention he was a new coaching client?
“Look, standups are great for many things, but your managers are not a cross-functional team in the same way a Scrum team is cross-functional. Don’t use a standup. What about lean coffee?”
In a lean coffee meeting, you start with sticky notes and markers. Everyone brainstorms the list of issues on the stickies. You then vote on the stickies, with, say, three dot votes.
You take the highest ranking sticky and discuss that for five minutes. Everyone thumb-votes to continue (thumb-up), don't care (thumb-sideways), or change the topic (thumb-down). Timebox your meeting to one hour.
If you want to summarize the list of action items or prepare a kanban with the list of action items, either add five to ten minutes or include it in the meeting.
People engage with lean coffee. It’s not a serial status meeting.
After this new client tried lean coffee, he emailed me saying everyone loved the meeting.
You might not want to have a lean coffee meeting. You might want to try a problem-solving meeting instead. In that case, try something like this:
- Email the team, explaining that you will be a problem-solving team.
- At the first meeting, brainstorm the list of problems you want to address. Agree on the list and rank the items. This is your backlog. Decide who will be the owner for each item.
- Decide how many problems you can address in a given meeting.
- Agree on how you will handle emergencies. (Does this sound like a kanban board to you?) Emergencies do occur, and you will need to manage them as a management team.
- Every meeting, address the agreed-upon items in your backlog.
- Make sure you agree on the rank of the next item in your backlog.
This is a form of feature management for the management problems in a management team. It is just like feature management for the teams and project portfolio management for projects.
You are addressing cost of delay, with either lean coffee or the reranking approach. With either approach, if you need to change your mind and use a standup, you always can.
But isn’t it nice to know you have options?