The Transformation Journey to Lean Meetings

Science and Not Rule of Thumb: One of the early fathers of Project Management Frederic Taylor with his experience in the steel industry in 1911 authored, “The Principles of Scientific Management”. His goal was to create a scientific technique of monitoring productivity which in turn would lead to the creation of smart time saving techniques resulting in increased productivity. The guiding principle is to constantly plan, measure, analyse and enhance our processes to make the workplace enjoyable, effective and energised.

The New Normal: With the Corona Pandemic, we are experiencing a complete restructuring of the way IT Projects will be delivered. Rather than focussing on just near-term survival this is the time to look through the fog of uncertainty, and in the words of Taylor conduct a scientific review of Delivery methodologies to identify smart strategies which will ensure employee satisfaction, enhanced productivity and most importantly work life balance.

As part of this series, we will be exploring some of the key pillars of modern day project management and analysing how to transform them scientifically to create an enriching and productive working environment for the New Normal. In this article we will review a Transformation Journey towards Lean and Effective Meetings….

Anatomy of a Typical Meeting

Average Meeting time is between 31 and 60 Minutes and from 2000 onwards the time an employee spends in meetings has risen around 10% year on year. On an average a Middle Manager spends 23 hours per week in meetings (And that doesn’t include all the impromptu gatherings that don’t make it onto the schedule). 73% of people multitask in meetings and 64% Middle Level Managers believe that Meetings inhibit Deep Work.

But wait….we had increased our meeting time to remove Autocratic Decision Making, foster an inclusive learning environment and help increase Organization alignment. And with the “New Normal” where we are not physically in the same building, meetings will the most important conduits for knowledge sharing, decision making and successful project deliveries. So how do we proceed to make our meetings productive, effective and interesting.

The 3-Step Transformation Journey for Online Meetings

Step 1 — Plan — Create the Meeting Framework

A fundamental step before we start planning the meeting is to categorise the meeting and ensure that it is uniquely planned and organised based on its category. So often we have seen Stand-Up Meetings getting metamorphosed into Solution Meetings and towards the end we have neither defined our weekly goals nor resolved the solution!!! Here is a simple framework to classify and organise meetings:

The Meeting Categorisation Framework

Once you have your Meeting Category identified, go ahead and setup the meeting invite which contains the agenda, objectives and if applicable notes from previous meetings. Don’t forget to add priorities to your agenda, so if you overrun your time, the least priority items get shifted to the next meeting. Statistics say that no more than 37% of meetings in the US use agendas and going by the book (or detailed agenda) can decrease the amount of meeting time up to 80%. Reminds me of Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network who said — “If I don’t have an agenda in front of me, I walk out.

  • Break the Ice — Virtual Water-coolers

Research says that 55% of communication is through body language, and another 38% is tone of voice. With online meetings and no visible Body Language, we have to go the extra Mile to ensure great starts to our meetings by planning some informal talks before jump starting into the meetings. It could be anything from Quarantine pastimes, National Politics or something as simple as kids homework, but ensure that you get the team into the “Remote Cafe Zone” before diving into the complex issues.

  • The Power of Visualisation

Statistics says that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. Imagine an online meeting where the only visual for team members is logo names of the speaker…that’s a perfect recipe to increase the Multi-Tasking effectiveness of your team!!! The ideal scenarios would be if all of us could get on Video Calls but given the constraints of Network Bandwidth that’s not so practical. Imagine waking up at 3 AM to join a global meeting where you have dress up formally for the Video Conference.

For Visualisation, we could use screen share with Power Points and XLS, but we lose the interactive capability. Remember those times when meetings got so intense that all of us moved to the White Boards to draw our version of the call flow. If your team needs to work on design reviews, then explore Miro and Concept Board. However, in case you need to collaborate on animated UI Flows then Invision Freehand and IPEVO Annotator provide options for content visualisation. And if you just want the plain simple Whiteboard for initial brainstorming then go for Limnu, it is so close to a real white board that you will almost feel the smell of the White Board Marker!!! The important thing is to analyse your requirements, experiment with Free Software and quickly narrow down to the one that fits your requirements.

As per statistics, 69% check their email during meetings, 4% of people multitask during video calls, 57% multitask during phone calls and 9 out of 10 people admit of daydreaming in meetings!!!! To ensure full engagement from your teams make sure that you call out on all the participants by virtually “going around the table” to take their feedback to ensure active participation.

  • Meeting Closure

Last but not the least, nothing undermines the importance of a recap session towards the end of the meeting. Summary of the action items, owners and most importantly planned closure dates are extremely important to ensure Successful deliveries.

For capturing Meeting Minutes the most effective strategy is to record your minutes in real time. However, in case the topics are complex you could explore automated transcribes or even third party manual transcribe services. Zoom has introduced Otter.AI’s transcribe service for its Pro Tier and higher clients.

Batman — the foremost strategist and obsessive planner notices details that everyone else might neglect and I strongly believe that every Delivery Manager is a Dark Knight without the mask!!! We have routinely been tracking Project Plans, Risk/Issue Trackers and project Documents. We now need to work on a Balanced Scorecard to define, measure and review the Effectiveness of our Meetings. The KPI’s would vary based on the Meeting category, but across all categories it is important to ensure that the key metrics are tracked, analysed and improvised.

KPI’s for Meeting Effectiveness Tracking

If You Can’t Measure It You Can’t Improve it — To quantify your KPI’s, it is important to get the relevant data using a combination of Automated and feedback techniques:

  • Automated Meeting Tools — You can extract your Meeting duration statistics, Objectives, Agenda & Audience from your Meeting Calendars
  • Explicit feedback — You can choose to get Team feedback using Questionnaires, Interview or Surveys from team members once a quarter or do informal chats to get feedback.
  • Meeting Coordinators — You could use 3rd Meeting Coordinators who can help collect and feed the data into your organization statistics

And finally….

I would like to end by saying that Good leaders are hard to find, but great delivery managers are rarer still!!! Rinse, Review and Revise your Meeting Frameworks to make the new online workplace an enriching and enjoyable experience for your teams.

I have shared a few learnings from my decade plus experience with remote client and delivery teams spread across the globe. I look forward to hear your experiences with Online Meetings and how we can make the world a better place to work in…..

Blockchain Enthusiast, Senior Delivery Manager & Movie Lover