There’re meetings to prepare for a meeting. Meetings to discuss the results of a previous meeting. There’re daily and jour fixe meetings. Meetings you like and meetings you’d like to avoid. Meetings to plan and meetings to change plans. Meetings to join and meetings to leave.
There’re people who define which meetings matter and people who define their work by sitting in meetings.
Meetings are there. Some work well, but most of them lower productivity and cost a whole lot of money.
The cost of a meeting in remote work environments is even higher. There’s a cost of conducting the meeting when multiple time zones are involved. There’s a cost of technology required to make a meeting smooth. And there’s the cost of misunderstanding when connection is bad.
A meeting is time spent to prevent spending more time in meetings.
To emphasize our position, we call meetings Unplugs. The idea of an Unplug is to get together in a small group of people — our natural constant for that is three — and to define the maximum amount of time not requiring a follow up meeting.
Unplugging properly is key to promote self-sufficient work. The drawing above illustrates when work happens and when it’s time to unplug again.
The tip of the triangle requires us to unplug. Work has so much converged that all tasks are done, partial results have been merged, all questions have been answered or too many new ones have emerged — the plug is inserted.
Pulling the plug allows for breathing and sorting. Hence, Unplug meetings are neither time boxed (at least not in the sense of one or two hours) nor loaded with thousands of agenda points. It’s just done when it’s done. Consider the Unplug as art that you can’t stop staring at — properly executed it’s worth every minute you put in it.
There’re many techniques to make Unplugging work. Feature Therapies for example are one of them, as they provide clear guidance to what comes next. Squeezing — our way to initiate design and development processes — is perfectly suitable as well (we’ll talk about them in upcoming posts).
No matter what techniques you choose, to make Unplugs promote autonomous working, some basic principles have to be implemented within your organization first.
The 4 pillars of self-sufficient work
We’ve identified four pillars that we think every company considering less meetings and more focused work should have a look at.
1. Minimized dependencies
Self-sufficiency happens when A does not require B in order to get work done. This can be easily achieved as long as the number of people within a project is kept to a bare minimum and clear interfaces between all disciplines have been defined. Again, three is our magic number and you should think about decreasing project capacities as well.
At Holygram, one major task of each Unplug is to decouple development from design. To make both disciplines work independently and to avoid senseless iterations, assumptions have to be made upfront. Assumptions can be data, wireframes or anything else that sates development and design for the same amount of time. We’ll talk about freezing assumptions in upcoming articles soon.
2. Asynchronous communication
There’s a lot of buzz around asynchronous communication these days. Think of asynchronous communication as delayed communication where one does not expect replies to happen immediately.
Communicating asynchronously gives people chances to think more and to revise less. Putting async into the mix teaches you to communicate more precisely and thus avoids pointless back-and-forths. It also leads to more focused work, as constant interruptions become a thing of the past.
Asynchronism shouldn’t replace synchronous communication entirely. There are 1-on-1’s or Code Reviews where direct types of communication work better.
3. Increased transparency
Only if everyone is informed about the current work status, it can be avoided to work under wrong assumptions. Working under fixed assumptions is what exceptional Unplugs are made for. Nevertheless not all things can always be foreseen. Treating transparency therefore as a first-class citizen helps to react quickly in cases where revision cannot be avoided.
4. Defined processes
If the term process sounds too big for you try thinking in analogies.
- Swiss clockwork
- Relay race
- Game manual
- Style guide
Those words facilitate the understanding to follow rules in order to achieve a common goal. Rules are not set in stone. They arise through observation and cooperation. They change if things deviate outside acceptable limits.
In order to achieve less meetings it’s essential that everyone knows about their role, how to hand over partial results or who to ask in dicey situations.