The most boring meetings ever

Hey, PM, how often do you hear “Those meetings make me crazy…They are so boring!” from developers? I hear this phrase while having my lunch in the office kitchen, while passing by developers, comfortably sitting on the sofa, and so on and so far… It can happen up to 10 times a day, if your company is big enough. So, PMs, let’s be honest, our meetings often suck.

I will try to analyze why that can happen and what can be done.

Boring daily meetings

Nevertheless daily meetings are only about 15 min long they can still be boring.

Your daily meeting can look like some of mine looked: at the time X PM starts kicking all the team members – “Stand up time. Stand up, you, bastard!”. Developers don’t feel very enthusiastic about the meeting, but they gather and… nothing happens. They all stand/sit and look at PM. PM starts with a “What a wonderful weater today… John, by the way, how is your progress?”. Jonh hum and haw, you can hear something like “Still in progress…Hmmm, urghh, hmmm.” When PM is done with John he moves to the next victim.

2012-12-05 18.10.59Sadness and hopelessness

Hope, your daily scrum is not like this one. But it can look similar in some points. Team is not really participating, not involved – they are just “present”. PM is leading the meeting. Developers ask “Why do we need these daily meetings? For PM to know the status?”

What can be done?

  • The most important problem with daily meeting is that they are meetings. You spend so much time gathering all the team, some of them have to come from other rooms, all the team is waiting for the missing participants. Try to make it easy: just gather and start discussing the progress, issues. If people don’t want to stand up – they can go around the room, for example. You should finish in 15 min – who hasn’t showed up – misses the stand up.
  • Developers feel that daily meetings kill their productivity. They say – “I am working and then you come and push me to stop and talk!”. He is right! Set the best time for the stand up – when everyone start working – ideally in the beginning of the working day. Yes, developers are not coming at 9:00 am – they have flexible hours. Chose the earliest possible time.
  • Developers are not engaged. Make stand ups short. Limit the speech of each team member to 2 sentences, for example. Ask them to tell the team about most fascinating yesterday’s progress and their tremendous plans for today. One sentence per each) And, finally – if they have any issues/impediments. The other option is to make the meetings interesting. It is the next level) Invent some rituals, ask developers to update the board while they are talking, update the charts, give some funny nicknames for the different actions/achievements on the meetings…

And, remember, if stand up is boring, it’s your fault for not educating the team in how to use this time.

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The most common problems in addition to “boring” I have seen:

  • Daily meetings are skipped, held not at the same time
  • Too much talking and chit chat
  • Team member not saying anything that the rest of the team can understand.
  • Repetition – someone saying that they worked on one story several days running.
  • Problem solving

They can kill the fun too, so let’s try to come up with some solutions:

  • If the team can’t understand what the person is talking about – it can be useful to show on team’s story board what story person is talking about. So the whole team will understand the context of the speech.
  • Encourage team members to prepare to the daily meeting. They can look up what was done yesterday in the bugtracking system, think about what they will tell at stand up some minutes before the gathering.
  • When someone is late – discuss with him, if the time is ok, how you can help solve this problem.
  • Team discusses the problem solving at the meeting, starts arguing. Just remind them that on the meeting they have to find the person who can help them with the issue, not solve it.
  • Reporting to Manager – stand out of the circle, stand near the wall, sit on the chair. Let the team have their own “circle”, ask them do not look at you.
  • Repetition – working on the same story for several days, and several days more, and no progress seen. Ask the person to tell, what exactly he did and going to do. May be he is too shy to say, that there are some problems.

Boring retrospectives

Retrospectives can take from one hour to several hours, so, no surprise, they can be boring.

One of the main mistakes I made in the beginning was that I tried to lead the meeting, be the one person to read the points, tell jokes, ask and answer questions. I had to put a lot of effort into retrospectives, a lot of energy. After the 2 hours meeting I felt totally exhausted, the team looked bored or like they have seen an amateur performance 🙂 I haven’t give them a chance to participate!

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Retrospectives should be interactive. We should brain-storm on the improvements and things which puzzles and note down the action items, there should be honest and open discussions, feedback.  Each person should add the meeting’s value by her own participation, not expecting to be “entertained” by scrum master.

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What can be done:

  • Change your retrospective format. One way to find out about different formats is to observe other teams, and then bring the new ideas to your team.
  • Facilitator should be listening more than talking
  • Build trust
  • Team should see the progress. it they think these meetings are useful and nothing happens – they would not take them seriously.
  • Use metaphors. Imagine, that you are a football team, discuss you last sprint as the game you lost/win, using the football terms only.

PS: And some photos

2012-09-25 20.24.57This architecture makes me happy 🙂

2012-10-11 15.44.17See that nyan toy? It’s the sign that daily stand up is coming! The one who holds the toy has the right to speak 🙂

6 thoughts on “The most boring meetings ever

      1. When I get replies I am likewise happy. In fact, I really like your use of graphics. My guess is that makes the work more entertaining and easier from which to learn.

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