Meetings as a Blunt Instrument | Jesse Fewell

Meetings as a Blunt Instrument

By September 25, 2007Blog, Uncategorized

This week I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of dedicated colocated teams. The cross-fuctional project i’m managing has team members distributed across 5 floors. Of course, each team is working on more than one project, all of which require multple meetings in a given week. What this means is the time-honored best practice of Management By Walking Around is just impossible. By the time I get to one team lead’s cube, they’ve been sucked into another meeting via their blackberry.

In a large IT matrix organization, the temptation is to optimize around funtional teams: the DB team, the GUI team, the mainframe team, etc. The teams all sit together, working on tasks organized around a specific functional knowledge, rather than the projects they work on. Of course, each functional team is working on several projects at once. As a result, I am exhausted trying to walk around getting questions answered. I’m beginning to appreciate the temptation to resort to “manage by email”…it’s just too hard to track everyone down face to face. So until I can convince the world at large to optimize around project teams, I have to utilize the secret weapon of large organizations: schedule a meeting of my own.

I have now scheduled one-on-one coffee breaks with each of my team leads, so that I can get an informal status from them well before the official weekly status meeting. In contrast, when I’ve worked on colocated Agile project teams, a quick sidebar gets me the answers I need in real-time. No hunting down people; No scheduling a conversation; just question-anwser. It also has the side-effect of updating the other team members with the same info.

Alas, in matrixed project organizations, you must journey vast and far to find your project members. So here I am, resorting to meetings to overcome everyone else’s meetings. It feels like schoolyard tactics: retaliating with the blunt instrument that I’m being clobbered with.