Between Meetings
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Between Meetings

Are Product Managers Wasting Their Time with Meaningless Meetings?

Photo by NoWah Bartscher on Unsplash

In the past, informal exchanges were natural; it was usual to bump into someone in the kitchen and talk about one topic or another or spontaneously approach someone on our bench and ask a simple question. Yet, spontaneity isn’t part of our new normal. Since hybrid work became part of our new normal, we had to adapt how we collaborate.

People are busy behind their screens. If you want to talk to someone, you need to find a slot and send an invite. As a result, many people live in virtual meetings. The question is, are these exchanges meaningful or pointless? How do we measure the efficacy of our meetings? Well, we don’t because we are too busy for that, once you finish one meeting, the next one is already waiting for you. Maybe you’ve got some time between appointments, but you also have work.

Here are some common sentences I hear from Product Managers:

  • I don’t have time to do my work. I’m in meetings the whole day.
  • Please find a slot in my calendar if you want to talk to me.
  • I’m all over the place. I’ve got more on my plate than I can handle.
  • Context switching is killing my day.

Curiously, Product Managers are responsible for scheduling most of the meetings. In a survey with my team, we concluded that each person schedules four meetings a day on average. And this is beyond the meetings they attend as guests. My point is: we’ve got to learn how to benefit from our meetings, and we’ve got to know what works and what doesn’t.

We cannot remain victims of our circumstances. We must act.

Only when we learn can we improve. I want to share an idea of something I am missing at the moment—analytics for virtual meetings. Then, I’d like to invite you to share which questions you would like to get answers to.

Measure Success

As Product Managers, we long for data for everything we do. We don’t create solutions without evidence for feasibility, viability, and usability. We are creative in figuring out how to get the data we need to progress. Many tools help us navigate, Google Analytics, mixpanel, Amplitude, Hotjar, etc. We are curious to experiment and learn from our end-users.

Without accurate data, Product Managers are powerless.

Successful Product Managers start with the end in mind. They know what they want to achieve, and together with the team, they figure out how to get there. We know how to build products, but do we really know how to lead engaging meetings? We are flying blind because we have no data.

I think it’s time to step back from our intensive meeting routine and figure out how to be a Product Manager for that as well. First, define success, and measure what contributes to it and what doesn’t. Inspect and adapt. Pivot if needed, stop doing something, and start experimenting.

Do you know what defines a successful meeting?

You may evaluate a positive result as:

  • Progress towards a common goal.
  • Decisions made related to a critical topic.
  • Clear agreements on the next steps of a project you’re working on.
  • A plan on how to tackle a specific challenge.
  • A list of assumptions to validate.

Although all of the above are good outcomes, I see other aspects as relevant. How much did it cost to get to these results? I am not only talking about financial costs; I am talking about other elements like:

  • Context switch: How many different topics a day do you handle?
  • Team’s performance: How do meetings impact the team’s performance?
  • Cost of opportunity: What are the participants not doing to attend their appointments?
  • Segmented work: How do meetings contribute to fragmented work?
  • Motivation: How motivated are team members after sessions?

We need help. It’s time to treat meetings as products; once we have the correct statistics, we will know where to act.

Flying blind cannot be the only option we have.

How Could You Move From Pointless Meetings to Meaningful Ones?

I think every person has a secret recipe for a meaningful meeting. Let me share mine with you:

  • Timing: ensure the time is suitable for all participants. Finding slots isn’t enough.
  • Agenda: be mindful of your colleagues. Tell them your motivation, which goal you want to achieve, and how the exchange will occur. Don’t send invites without agenda.
  • Preparation: a meaningful exchange requires preparation. Tell in advance what you expect from the participants and inform them if preparation is needed and what to do.
  • Participants: only invite people you need to achieve your goal. Virtual meetings can have unlimited participants, and that’s a trap. Be mindful about the other’s time, do not invite someone just for the sake of doing it. Ensure only relevant participants are there.
  • Tune In: In all meetings I host, I start by saying the goal I have, connect to the agenda, and then as the participants, “how do you come in?” This is an important question because you give a chance for people to arrive at the meeting and then understand if something needs to change for the exchange to be effective.
  • Participation: during the exchange, monitor who contributes and who is silent. Strive to give everyone a chance to be heard. If someone isn’t participating, either the person is mentally absent or has nothing to do with your topic.
  • Next steps: you need to finish the meeting with a clear outcome. Ensure you agree on who does what until when and who is a person, not a team.
  • Tune Out: leave around 10 minutes in the end, to evaluate how people leave the meeting. Ask a question, “How do you leave?” This will show you how people perceived the discussion and help you improve.

That’s how I organize my meetings, and I’ve collected good results. However, measuring the outcome is manual and intuitive. I’d be better off having statistics that would help me ensure I am not contributing to people wasting their time.

I will start trying out Between’s meeting analytics during the following weeks. Hopefully, I will stop flying blind and get insights on how to increase the efficacy of meetings.

I’d be curious to learn from you, what are the statistics you’d like to know about your meetings? How would you measure success? Please share your wishes and perspective on it.

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