In his recent blog about the scourge of status meetings, Jason Fried, of Basecamp fame, makes the same point about meeting math that I’ve made in previous blogs, most recently, my blog on planning meetings for maximum effectiveness.
I agree with him that we need to vigilantly guard against meetings that are a waste of time and money. Yet, I still argue in favor of well structured standing meetings. Before I tell you why, let me explain that there are two kinds of status meetings, and they are not the same.
The first is the traditional Scrum standing meeting – a short and well-defined meeting, which I discuss here. The second meeting occurs more in business projects (non-technology) where a group of people are working on a project with a lot of different but interconnected threads, and periodically need to connect for the purpose of understanding what else is going on. Put aside the question of whether people stand, both of these types of meetings can add value, and here’s why.
Scrum standing meetings can build a culture of accountability.
To do that, we need to follow some rules. Face-to-face is best. Standing up is best. Sticking to the right questions is required.
Every team is different. Every project is different. If you have a well-formed and accountable team, operating in a relatively stable environment, perhaps written status reports are a viable alternative. Yet, it’s hard to compare the impact of a face-to-face, look ‘em in the eye commitment to words on a page.
Most teams encounter turbulence at times. If you’re sailing on a ship in rough seas, do you want the captain and the first mate sending status reports to each other, or talking? I still contend that face-to-face meetings can offer a lot of value.
There are two different mindsets that are possible here. One is that these meetings offer teams an opportunity to self-manage their work and build a sense of accountability to each other and for the work. The other is that these meetings provide management with ammunition for holding people accountable to management. Which mindset appeals to you the most?
Putting status reports in writing provides an audit trail and makes it easier for a project leader to be the boss. If the goal is to build self-managing teams, I’m not sure written status reports that can be dangled over people’s heads are the best option.
Scrum standing meetings can build a culture of trust.
Consider that people are less likely to put the bad stuff in writing. If a programmer is struggling with a particular section of code, are they going to introduce that problem in a status update? If an HR team member hasn’t yet gotten the lawyers to sign off on a change to an HR form, is that likely to come out in a status report? The second is more likely to be disclosed than the first, simply because people are more willing to disclose problems when they can be blamed on others.
When smart people are relying on their own intellect to solve complex problems, there are going to be times when we need another smart person to help us. We live in a world that values autonomy and self-sufficiency.
Standing meetings can re-energize people.
A lot of standing meetings occur in the mornings. A lot of teams like to meet then. I actually prefer them later in the day – when people are likely to be in need of a break anyway. But then, everyone is different. Have you asked your team?
Standing meetings are a good time to celebrate the little wins.
Are you going to be a group of people trying to accomplish great things together? If so, don’t you want times when you can give people a high-five and celebrate accomplishments?
Some people don’t read.
I see it all the time. Someone writes an email or a file memo to bring everyone up to speed. A question arises, and it quickly becomes clear that no one read the email or file memo. I’m not sure how you can make people read.
I’m pretty sure that people are different. Some people prefer to get their news from the newspaper, some from television, and some from Facebook or Twitter. If you have people on your team who prefer to be updated in meetings, and others who prefer to read status updates, some compromise is going to be needed. Have you actually asked the people on your teams what they prefer?
Fried makes the point that people can read and process written status reports “on their own time when they have the time.” But will they do that in a timely fashion? They probably will, if they believe there is relevance. If not, I doubt it.
Short frequent meetings can uncover problems sooner.
In addition to technology projects, I also work with business teams doing massive change projects. It’s easy for these teams to fragment into two or three person silos, and forget that there is a world of work being done on tasks that are related. Hearing a quick update (and in this case, I’m not talking about a Scrum meeting), can result in ‘Aha’ moments when risks or issues present themselves. Identifying problems sooner is one of the ways to avoid excessive re-work.
Are you battling the scourge of status meetings? Teams are different. I can’t say whether written status reports are better than standing meetings. Try both options and make your own call. For business projects (non-technology), it might vary at different times in a project, depending on what is going on. Consider whether your ultimate goals include building self-managing teams. If so, my vote is in favor of face-to-face meetings.