Fixing IT Productivity Destroyers (Part II)

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 11-17-2011 Print Email
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we revealed the “shocking” fact that IT managers and leaders universally agree that meetings are the single biggest productivity destroyer they experience. But in place of the typical response: have more productive meetings, we presented a specific technique used by the VC community for streamlining meetings. Here, in Part II, we’ll show you exactly how to bring this technique to life and the benefits you can expect to enjoy.

Welcome back. Now comes the fun part. But first ...

A quick review
From the VC community we learned the basic approach for making meetings productive and valuable: Focus the goals and objectives of meetings and then wrap them in a tight time frame. The perfect example: the seven-minute triage meeting.

The objection

If it didn't occur to you while reading Part I of this series, I'm sure that when you see it written up in such short terse language you have got to be thinking: "Wait a minute. That's a nice soundbite. But it's not really a helpful answer."

I agree. That high-level statement isn't enough. In fact, there are three specific issues this generalization has to overcome to be useful for IT leaders.

  1. IT management is very different from VC operations. What IT leaders do doesn't lend itself to tight definition such as the seven-minute triage meeting.

  2. To the extent that IT can define its meetings like the VC community does, is this really how we should be spending our time?  (Can you imagine how the CFO would react if he learned IT was engaged in a meeting definition project? Yikes!)

  3. It's not implementable. This statement is nothing more than high-level advice. These words have been said (in one form or another) many times before, yet still the problem persists.

So, let's make it real and useful for IT leaders

After some experimentation, here are the best practices for bringing this concept to life.

  1. Replace the default 60-minute meeting time slot with a 20-minute meeting unit. For some inexplicable reason, people seem to naturally default to 60 minutes as the amount of time needed for a meeting. And while that may be the case in certain circumstances, it should not be the default position. In place of a 60-minute default time slot, adopt the 20-minute meeting unit. If a particular topic needs more time than tgat, it is up to the meeting organizer to convince the participants that two (or three, or four) meeting units of 20 minutes is necessary. Why 20 minutes? There are a number of reasons. But basically it's because experimentation has shown that this is just the right amount of time to accomplish one thing really well. Not too much, not too little. If you think 20 minutes isn't that long, try meditating in silence for 20 minutes. Once you get rid of all the noise and busy work, you'll see just how long 20 minutes really can be.

  2. Replace agendas with goals. It's considered bad business manners to send a meeting request without providing an agenda. Unfortunately, in most cases, an agenda isn't that helpful. It provides an overview of what is to be discussed and doesn't clearly express the purpose and goals of the meeting. When calling a meeting, in place of writing up an agenda, focus instead on expressly stating the goal(s) of the meeting. Then, if you have time and space, spell out the agenda. Hint: if you find you have more than one goal, consider having two separate meetings.

  3. Orient the meeting toward follow-ups and actions. Meetings produce lots of ideas and discussion. That's wonderful. But the real purpose of most meetings is to agree on next steps and actions. Keep a focus on targeted actions and your meetings will be productive. Allow them to become discussion forums for "important issues," and they will feel long and painful.

The enforcement mechanisms

The final piece of this puzzle is putting in place an enforcement mechanism that helps you (and your colleagues) achieve the noble objectives of cutting down meeting times and keeping them goal oriented and outcome focused.

I find there are two simple enforcement mechanisms that work best:

  1. The goal-focused meeting invite.

  2. The meeting summary.

The first mechanism sets up the meeting for success and the second ensures that it takes place successfully.

The goal-focused meeting invite reads as follows:

  1. Meeting Name:

  2. Project Name (if applicable):

  3. Requested by:

  4. Meeting goal(s):

  5. Meeting units required (if more than one):

This goal-focused meeting invite sets the stage. It not only establishes the goals but it expresses them in relation to your "new" 20 minute time block default.

The meeting summary picks up directly from the invite. But it's not just any old, free-form meeting summary. The summary I am speaking about is tailor made to support the approach we just reviewed.  It has five sections:

  • Section I - Demographics

  • Section II - Goals (with time allocation and achievement check)

  • Section III - Key Points and Agreements Section IV - Follow up / Action Plan

  • Section V - Miscellaneous Notes 

Sections I and II are drawn directly from the invite and they focus the meeting as it gets started. Section III captures essential points of discussion. Section IV, the most important one of all, captures actions ties them back to the discussion items and agreements.

That's it. We're done. All that's left is for you to put it into practice and enjoy the benefits. And to help you do just that. If you'd like to receive a free meeting summary template that you can put to use right away, email me here.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and an advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at http://11secretsforitleaders.com

 



 

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