Decide When You Need to Meet, Workshop, or Write to Save Energy and Time

You're a busy product person, a Product Owner. You have information the team needs, and you want to meet. A lot. You see the need for these meetings:

  • Standups
  • Backlog refinement
  • Iteration planning
  • Strategic updates, so the team knows what's going on.

Sounds reasonable. Except, the team thinks you want to meet too often.

What can you do? Instead of calling every gathering a “meeting,” use the meeting's purpose to guide your decisions.

Use the Purpose to Name the Gathering

What's the purpose of this gathering?  I've seen three kinds of events:

  • Meetings where we need to discuss and decide.
  • Workshops where we work as a team.
  • Information dissemination from people who decided for other people.

Besides, all gatherings hold the opportunity for people to reconnect with each other—assuming the team has sufficient hours of overlap. (If the team can't find sufficient time to meet,  consider handoffs, not meetings.)

When we name the gathering according to the outcome we want, people might decide to come on their own, without any nudging.  Especially if we separate the synchronous work from the asynchronous work.

Separate the Asynchronous from the Synchronous

Do any of these gatherings require information that people can read/review in advance? If so, why not offer that information in advance, so people can read and prepare for the real-time work?

The more often I support people in their preparation, the faster we can get to the topic under discussion or of the workshop.

And we avoid one of my pet peeves: where someone reads me their slides. I hate that. I can read faster than the speaker can talk.

The one exception might be when we do a Town Hall or some other information update.

What About Information Updates?

As with all juicy questions, the answer to this is, “It depends.” Here's my guideline for when to do information update meetings:

When you want to make sure everyone knows the overarching goal for the work.

If you're a PO or a product manager, you might need to explain this product's strategy now. Or, for this project (interim release) for this product now.

As a senior manager, you might want to explain the company's state and explain the current goals.

You also might want to have reconnection time as part of the meeting.

Reconnect as Humans

We have many ways to reconnect in meetings:

  • Check-in at the start of the meeting.
  • A team-based approach to walking the board as a standup.
  • Some other time set apart for socialization at the start or the end of the meeting.
  • Mobbing as part of the work.

I caution you against meeting-as-only-socialization. Many of us do want to reconnect with others, especially since we are dispersed. However, many of us feel pressure to finish work.

Summary:

Think about the purpose of why you want people to gather in real-time:

  1. Do you want discussion and decision(s)? If so, that might be a meeting.
  2. Do you want a common work product as an outcome? That might be a workshop.
  3. Do you want to disseminate information? See where you might write things down in advance so people can prepare for the real-time meeting.

For all gatherings, consider asking yourself where to use asynchronous preparation for the people you invite and how little you can do in the real-time work.

Whatever you do, avoid serial status meetings. Those are horrible.

Let people know the purpose of the gathering. Organize yourself first to make it possible for people to say yes to your meeting.

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