After joining MIL in October 2018, I was assigned to an Information Technology (IT) Sector team supporting a government client. Fresh out of graduate school and used to having my head down with books stacked high and a long list of analysis and reports to complete, I quickly noticed that people around me spent a lot of time in meetings. I was confused. Having learned efficiency mantras like “When a Meeting Should Have Been an E-mail,” I was skeptical about how all of these meetings might adversely affect productivity. I quickly came to realize each meeting had a purpose.
In addition to being new to IT, I was also new to Agile and Scrum methodology. After completing Certified Scrum Master training, I took a step back at work to consider the purpose of each meeting my peers attended. While to an outsider it may seem like there were too many meetings, from the inside I realized we were efficiently planning our strategy, approach, and implementation, while also reflecting on our successes and what had negatively impacted our work. Each meeting made our goal clearer and our examination of past weeks improved our future work – we were constantly learning from the process and sharing that knowledge with the entire team.
Instead of each of us individually focusing on what we thought was the deliverable, we made sure our team and stakeholders maintained a shared vision and understanding throughout the process and strategically planned each development phase. Team meetings facilitated constant communication, which in turn ensured our products were the best possible deliverables within the work scope. Frequent team gatherings made sure that each team member was clear not only on what our current phase looked like, but what the overall goal was. Ultimately, these purposeful, strategic, and specific meetings were the reason we produced such great deliverables.
After this realization, I decided to research how to make these essential meetings even more productive by avoiding some common mistakes and pitfalls. Below are a few tips that are especially helpful to increase meeting efficiency and overall effectiveness.
- Set clear meeting objectives. The easiest way to ensure a meeting has a purpose is to clearly define it for everyone involved. You can either do this by including it on your meeting invite or starting your meeting with the objectives. Discussions may be unstructured, but they should always be tailored to the meeting objectives. If through this process you realize the objectives don’t require much discussion and have simple answers, you may want to consider an e-mail instead.
- Ensure there is a high level of transparency. In addition to being clear about the objectives, each member of the meeting should be transparent about how achievable the objective is and an estimate of how long it may take. A large part of an Agile approach is reflecting on past projects, anything blocking your current tasks, and fostering an honest and trustworthy space to express concerns. There should also be transparency about the common goal of the office, project, and task. Outlining the end goal in the beginning helps participants align with the project and gives purpose to their work.
- Assign clear tasks and their deadlines. The more specific an objective and task is, the more reliable an employee’s evaluation of its achievability and timeline will be. This may take multiple meetings over a longer period of time to iron out, so don’t shy away from a follow-up meeting later if goals, objectives, and tasks become clearer or more specific over time (and especially if they change altogether). Discussing specificity may seem tedious at first, until you see the deliverables from such discussions are higher quality and save you from having to edit heavily later.
- Know when to table the discussion. Even when you follow the above three tips, there is always the chance your meeting can get off topic, end in parties disagreeing, or evolve into a new discussion. If participants get off topic, identify if it is appropriate to redirect the attention back to the objectives or additional information needs to be gathered outside the meeting to continue. When it becomes clear the original objectives are not being followed or no longer applicable, feel comfortable ending the meeting. Allow you or your team time to regroup and evaluate new or clearer objectives, and then set a follow-up meeting.
It’s likely we’ve all experienced a ‘meeting that could be an e-mail.’ However, realizing the intent behind each meeting, what your goal is, and using each one to ensure you are perfecting your process and planning for the future can significantly limit inefficient meetings. Once you are accustomed to a strategic Agile workplace, you will never want to go back.
Laura McVey is a Junior Project Manager on MIL’s Information Technology team.