A Responsible Recipe for the Fewest Possible Meetings

May 20, 2013 Jonathan Berger

Meetings are crucial to healthy team communication. But they’re also opportunities for waste, occasionally dull, and always expensive. Every team is different, but continuing the theme of “Convention over configuration for process”, I’ve found the following structure keeps meetings to ~7.5% of your week. This minimizes waste, maximizes making-time, and makes for a nice scheduling default for projects.

1. Daily Standup

5x weekly, 10 minutes each

Standup is a short, team-wide orientation meeting. Each morning, the team meets for a the Team Stand-Up meeting. As it’s name implies, everyone should be standing up—even if they’re remote and parked behind a screen. Meetings tend to run short when everyone’s on their feet, and there isn’t much to cover anyway, just three canonical questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you doing today?
  • Are you blocked on anything?

Since the team is pairing, most of the time the second person will say “pass” since their pair already mentioned the stories they worked on, the issues they had, and what they’re doing next: sticking together or seeking a new pairing partner.

2. Iteration Planning Meeting (“IPM”)

1x weekly, 60 minutes each

The IPM is a weekly tactical planning meeting. It’s aim is to ensure that the backlog is in good shape, and that all the team members have a shared understanding of what the stories mean. The product manager leads the meeting by reviewing the backlog. Each story should be reviewed; questions can be answered, clarifications can be issued, and developers can estimate the stories. Ideally, the meeting is on Monday or Tuesday and the team will get through the current iteration’s undone stories and a healthy chunk of next iteration’s stories. On some teams, it helps to take an hour before the IPM to groom the backlog, prioritize, and flesh out poorly-worded stories, and review mockups for hidden features in a pre-IPM meeting with a small group (usually the Product Owner and a single developer).

3. Friday Afternoon Meeting

1x weekly, 60 minutes each

A useful pattern on recent projects has been to block out an hour Friday afternoon and rotate between three meetings: the Team Retro, the Tech Retro, and the Release Planning. It’s nice to have a regular time, and every-three-weeks is about the right frequency for each of these.

Week 1: Team Retro

The Team Retro is a chance for the day-to-day members of the team to reflect on how things are going, celebrate successes, voice frustrations, and suggest Action Items. While there are plenty of variations, the classic Retro format is to throw three columns on a whiteboard:

  • “Smileys”, or things that are going well, represented by the expected emoticon :-)
  • “Frownies”, or things that are going poorly, represented by :-(
  • “Mehs”, or things that don’t fit cleanly in either category, but bear mentioning :-

After ~25m of going around the room and throwing out Smileys, Frownies, and Meh’s, the team might spend a few minutes identifying items which have a common theme, and then spend the rest of the time suggesting action items, either for each item (starting with the Frownies) or, if time is short, on a theme-by-theme basis. The action items are recorded and assigned to individuals, and their progress is followed (often at the start of the next retro). For more about Team Retros, see 7 Best Practices for Facilitating Agile Retrospectives.

Week 2: Tech Retro

A Tech Retro is for and by developers. While pair-programming is essentially continuous code review, it can still be useful to take some time to step back and look at the codebase. Tech Retros often take the traditional “Smilely / Frownie / Meh” format, but focus exclusively on the codebase. This is a great time to talk about modeling decisions and suggest refactors. Often the action items resulting from tech retros are a long list of chores. Try to keep each one to a manageable size, and make sure at least a few of them make it into the backlog for the next iteration.

Week 3: Release Planning

“Release Planning” means different things to different Agilists, but in this context it’s a loose title for a long-range planning meeting. While the IPM is a short-term tactical meeting, it’s important to occasionally step back and look at the big picture. What are the product’s medium- and long-term goals? Are we on track? What should our next milestone be? The Release Planning should be attended by the whole team, and by the stakeholders like clients and CEOs who may not be part of the day-to-day workings of the team. It’s a chance to review epic story tracks, dates and deadlines, and to make sure that everyone has a shared vision of where the team is going—and that it’s a place worth going to.

Why Meetings Matter

Communication is crucial, but so striking a balance between waste and on keeping everyone on the same page. I’ve found that teams which hew to this schedule tend to have a healthy rhythm. While circumstances occasionally require additional meetings, especially on the part of the Product Owner or the outward-facing members of the team, this structure is sufficient to maintain healthy intra-team communication without taking developers away from code any more than necessary.

Do you have another default meeting structure that you like? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

About the Author

Biography

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