Five Guidelines for Effective Meetings

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I believe the foundation of effective meetings and workshops are a set of guidelines that are followed every time. These guidelines will guide you through when and why meetings should be called, who should attend and what outputs should come out of the meeting.  The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure that the analyst is getting maximum outcomes when they ask a group of attendees to participate.

This post will explore these guidelines:

  • Handshakes, not handoffs
  • Workshops are collaborative, working sessions
  • All attendees have a defined role
  • Attendees come prepared to work
  • Deliverables (not just action items) are outputs

Handshakes, Not Handoffs

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This was a favorite quote from a CIO I worked for years ago. Too often in our requirements practice, we were seeing one team produce a set of requirements and hand them over to the next group to interpret (or misinterpret), elaborate and then develop only to achieve a result that was not what was intended.  The idea behind this guideline is that the people who produce requirements include the people who will use those requirements in the workshops earlier in the process. When we have the downstream teams involved in the workshops we:

  • transfer important knowledge about what changes we’re implementing and why
  • identify potential issues or gaps in requirements earlier
  • expedite later phases of work because the downstream teams know what the project is about
  • identify business and technical risks early to make project adjustments before we start to write code or make purchases

Use this principle when thinking about who should and shouldn’t attend your session. Is it always possible to get downstream team members involved earlier? Not always. But if you use this principle you can begin to find ways to incorporate them into your workshops.

Workshops are Collaborative, Working Sessions

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This principle focuses on making meetings and workshops collaborative and productive rather than just an hour (or more) of a group’s time to stumble around, complain or wax poetic about some unrelated topic.  I’ve been in too many of those meetings where there is no agenda, no one comes prepared, and there is no planned output. I’ve also declined a number of these meetings over the years because they are not an effective use of my time. I believe that when we call a meeting it should be a working session. That involves me:

  • including a purpose (why are we having this meeting)
  • attaching an agenda (what are we doing in this session)
  • indicating who is needed and why (ex. Bob, we’ll need you to make a decision on X topic)
  • providing some pre-work when possible (so people have a chance to get acquainted with what we’re going to talk about or do)
  • indicating what the goals or outputs of the meeting will be

We’ll talk more about the structure of a collaborative meeting in a later post but for now, this principle is about setting up the right introduction to the meeting so people are ready to work or make decisions in your meeting

All Attendees Have a Defined Role

I’m a stickler for ensuring that everyone who comes to a requirement meeting needs to know why they were invited. The purpose and agenda can give them clues as to why they are needed. However, sometimes an attendee is key to a meeting. I also reach out to that person to let them know why I must have them there. If he cannot attend or have a suitable delegate, I will also reschedule the meeting. No sense meeting if my most important attendee can’t attend, right?

To get the most out of your meetings and workshops the right people must attend so some time needs to be put into who they are, why they are needed, and what they are expected to do, know or communicate.  The purpose of this principle then is to invite only those who can help you achieve your stated meeting purpose and produce its outputs.

Check out my post on identifying the right participants for your meeting or workshop.

Attendees Come Prepared to Work

This guideline is all about providing pre-work so your attendees can show up ready to participate. Knowing who should attend and why is critical but those folks must come prepared to produce whatever that outcome is. To do this, you must provide them with the materials to review so you can achieve that goal. Hitting the attendees cold can mean that the meeting “churns,” which can lead to the meeting failing to meet its purpose.

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Deliverable Are Outputs of the Session

This guideline focuses on creating or finalizing deliverables in real time with all the right  right people in the room. The deliverable doesn’t just have to be a final document. It can include the approvals needed to wrap up that stage of requirements development so the next stage can begin. No reading a long spec! No waiting for emails or signatures! So when workshops like this happen – the right attendees prepared to produce and complete an output – they can be darn near perfect.

These guidelines do not work in silos. As you can see, they work together to establish a framework for what’s most valuable to make your meetings and workshops productive. These guidelines are the ones that I work by and the ones which I’ll integrate into the next post in this series. You may have others that make sense with your organization so make sure to document and share them with your team.  These guidelines, when regularly followed, will build a highly functioning collaborative environment where you achieve your meeting outcomes regularly. 

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