Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Meetings ERA

You just opened your outlook calendar and you feel horrified from what you see??4 meetings in the same day??And maybe you really care about half of them??

I think it’s good to know how to handle meetings and these are few suggestions coming from Robert C. Martin in his “The clean coder” book.

I highlighted the key part on each paragraph, so if you are in rush you can just read the paragraph title and the part in bold ;)



Meetings cost about $200 per hour per attendee. This takes into account salaries, benefits, facilities costs, and so forth. The next time you are in a meeting, calculate the cost. You may be amazed.
There are two truths about meeting.
  1. Meetings are necessary.
  2. Meetings are huge time wasters.
Often these two truths equally describe the same meeting. Some in attendance may find them invaluable; others may find them redundant or useless.
Professionals are aware of the high cost of meetings. They are also aware that their own time is precious; they have code to write and schedules to meet. Therefore, they actively resist attending meetings that don’t have an immediate and significant benefit.


You do not have to attend every meeting to which you are invited. Indeed, it is unprofessional to go to too many meetings. You need to use your time wisely. So be very careful about which meetings you attend and which you politely refuse.
The person inviting you to a meeting is not responsible for managing your time. Only you can do that. So when you receive a meeting invitation, don’t accept unless it is a meeting for which your participation is immediately and significantly necessary to the job you are doing now.
Sometimes the meeting will be about something that interests you, but is not immediately necessary. You will have to choose whether you can afford the time. Be careful—there may be more than enough of these meetings to consume your days.
Sometimes the meeting will be about something that you can contribute to but is not immediately significant to what you are currently doing. You will have to choose whether the loss to your project is worth the benefit to theirs. This may sound cynical, but your responsibility is to your projects first. Still, it is often good for one team to help another, so you may want to discuss your participation with your team and manager.
Sometimes your presence at the meeting will be requested by someone in authority, such as a very senior engineer in another project or the manager of a different project. You will have to choose whether that authority outweighs your work schedule. Again, your team and your supervisor can be of help in making that decision.
One of the most important duties of your manager is to keep you out of meetings. A good manager will be more than willing to defend your decision to decline attendance because that manager is just as concerned about your time as you are.


Meetings don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you find yourself sitting in a meeting that you would have declined had you known more. Sometimes new topics get added, or somebody’s pet peeve dominates the discussion. Over the years I’ve developed a simple rule: When the meeting gets boring, leave.
Again, you have an obligation to manage your time well. If you find yourself stuck in a meeting that is not a good use of your time, you need to find a way to politely exit that meeting.
Clearly you should not storm out of a meeting exclaiming “This is boring!” There’s no need to be rude. You can simply ask, at an opportune moment, if your presence is still necessary. You can explain that you can’t afford a lot more time, and ask whether there is a way to expedite the discussion or shuffle the agenda.
The important thing to realize is that remaining in a meeting that has become a waste of time for you, and to which you can no longer significantly contribute, is unprofessional. You have an obligation to wisely spend your employer’s time and money, so it is not unprofessional to choose an appropriate moment to negotiate your exit.

Have an Agenda and a Goal

The reason we are willing to endure the cost of meetings is that we sometimes do need the participants together in a room to help achieve a specific goal. To use the participants’ time wisely, the meeting should have a clear agenda, with times for each topic and a stated goal.
If you are asked to go to a meeting, make sure you know what discussions are on the table, how much time is allotted for them, and what goal is to be achieved. If you can’t get a clear answer on these things, then politely decline to attend.
If you go to a meeting and you find that the agenda has been high-jacked or abandoned, you should request that the new topic be tabled and the agenda be followed. If this doesn’t happen, you should politely leave when possible.

Stand-Up Meetings

These meetings are part of the Agile cannon. Their name comes from the fact that the participants are expected to stand while the meeting is in session. Each participant takes a turn to answer three questions:
  1.  What did I do yesterday?
  2. What am I going to do today?
  3. What’s in my way?
That’s all. Each question should require no more than twenty seconds, so each participant should require no more than one minute. Even in a group of ten people this meeting should be over well before ten minutes has elapsed.

Iteration Planning Meetings

These are the most difficult meetings in the Agile canon to do well. Done poorly, they take far too much time. It takes skill to make these meetings go well, a skill that is well worth learning.
Iteration planning meetings are meant to select the backlog items that will be executed in the next iteration. Estimates should already be done for the candidate items. Assessment of business value should already be done. In really good organizations the acceptance/component tests will already be written, or at least sketched out.
The meeting should proceed quickly with each candidate backlog item being briefly discussed and then either selected or rejected. No more than five or ten minutes should be spent on any given item. If a longer discussion is needed, it should be scheduled for another time with a subset of the team.
My rule of thumb is that the meeting should take no more than 5% of the total time in the iteration. So for a one week iteration (forty hours) the meeting should be over within two hours.

Iteration Restrospective and Demo

These meetings are conducted at the end of each iteration. Team members discuss what went right and what went wrong. Stakeholders see a demo of the newly working features. These meetings can be badly abused and can soak up a lot of time, so schedule them 45 minutes before quitting time on the last day of the iteration. Allocate no more than 20 minutes for retrospective and 25 minutes for the demo. Remember, it’s only been a week or two so there shouldn’t be all that much to talk about.


Kent Beck once told me something profound: “Any argument that can’t be settled in five minutes can’t be settled by arguing.” The reason it goes on so long is that there is no clear evidence supporting either side. The argument is probably religious, as opposed to factual.
Technical disagreements tend to go off into the stratosphere. Each party has all kinds of justifications for their position but seldom any data. Without data, any argument that doesn’t forge agreement within a few minutes (somewhere between five and thirty) simply won’t ever forge agreement. The only thing to do is to go get some data.
Some folks will try to win an argument by force of character. They might yell, or get in your face, or act condescending. It doesn’t matter; force of will doesn’t settle disagreements for long. Data does.
Some folks will be passive-aggressive. They’ll agree just to end the argument, and then sabotage the result by refusing to engage in the solution. They’ll say to themselves, “This is the way they wanted it, and now they’re going to get what they wanted.” This is probably the worst kind of unprofessional behavior there is. Never, ever do this. If you agree, then youmust engage.
How do you get the data you need to settle a disagreement? Sometimes you can run experiments, or do some simulation or modeling. But sometimes the best alternative is to simply flip a coin to choose one of the two paths in question.
If things work out, then that path was workable. If you get into trouble, you can back out and go down the other path. It would be wise to agree on a time as well as a set of criteria to help determine when the chosen path should be abandoned.
Beware of meetings that are really just a venue to vent a disagreement and to gather support for one side or the other. And avoid those where only one of the arguers is presenting.
If an argument must truly be settled, then ask each of the arguers to present their case to the team in five minutes or less. Then have the team vote. The whole meeting will take less than fifteen minutes.

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