39

What is the single best tactic a developer can use to avoid spending time in meetings?

I'm mainly thinking of the seemingly-pointless meetings that (project) managers often schedule, that can be a real barrier to getting real work done.

So far, I have had some success with the following techniques, which seem to remove some of the need for meetings.

  • Be able to answer all status questions with 'It's in JIRA' (we use JIRA for task-management).
  • Be able to answer most planning questions with 'It's in JIRA'.
  • Be able to answer most other questions with 'It's on the wiki'.
  • Use the beer in the office fridge (or the coffee machine) to enable brief ad-hoc 'stand-up meetings' at the end of the day, so that everyone already knows what's going on.
  • Use an internal IRC channel or chat room so that everyone already knows what's going on.
26

Remove chairs from the conference rooms. When people stand up, they don't yap as much.

25

The dev lead should be shielding the entire team from meetings. Developers should never have to go to meetings. Ever. I'm not counting dev team meetings, which tend to be informal, and if the dev lead manages them well, don't feel like meetings at all, and definitely don't waste anyone's time.

The dev lead is the person that absorbs all the annoying crap that would distract individual team members. There has to be a good buffer between all the beauracratic nonsense that goes on in some companies and the people that actually need to be productive.

If you are the dev lead.. you might be screwed, but hopefully you have enough sway to decline meeting invites and be able to defend your position that it would be a waste of your time.

20 accepted

There are meetings and there are meetings.

Class I Time Wasters - all hands status reports. The PM doesn't know the status and needs to have everyone in the same room to feel important. You mention these, and you have a sensible approach -- you've posted the status elsewhere.

Class II Time Wasters - watching a manager think. The PM has to present something to higher up the food-chain and you have to help them do it. In short, they can't seem to read or write without reading to someone or having someone watch them type. You don't mention these, so I'll assume this just doesn't happen to you.

Planning meetings can be Class II time wasters (watching a manager pull together a plan), or they can be very important. Planning often involves tradeoffs, choices, identification of roadblocks, alternatives and -- well -- group thinking. You may not like it, but your job may depend on your participation. You mention planning; you don't like them.

Are they time-wasters -- because you've posted the plan and it's not negotiable -- or is there some additional decision-making that is happening?

Other meetings may seem wasteful to you (because you already know things about the project, the business case or the technology). But they may be crucial for others to learn those things from you. Or decide things with input from you.

Two of the tenets of the Agile Manifesto include the words "Interaction" and "Collaboration" as being really valuable -- more valuable than the alternatives. And Agile practices often involve meetings instead of tools. Similarly, no value meetings can be compared with high value meetings.

The question about meetings is:

  • Is it information that's most efficiently communicated in an all-hands situation? A class I time waster is a meeting that everybody didn't have to attend. It could have been done as a series of one-on-ones.

  • Is it a decision that requires several people? A class II time waster is a meeting in which the decision has already been made and communicated, we're just updating the powerpoint together.

Many meetings -- while tiresome -- may have nuggets of importance. What's important is to spot those moments of good stuff happening (and who got value from the meeting) and provide appropriate feedback how the meeting was of benefit to you.

Simply beefing about meetings falls on deaf ears. Managers love meetings. That's why they're in those positions.

Comparing specific high value meetings and low value meetings, however, hits a manager where it counts. Facts. Value. Improvement.

17

Use this image in your meeting acceptance message :)

Unfortunately in my universe, there is no way to reduce time spent in meetings.

15

Decline the meeting invite.

11

Every meeting should have a purpose and an agenda. Anything new that comes up (within reason) should be addressed later. This will also discourage people from hijacking the meeting and turning it into something it wasn't intended to be. Also, any conversation that can or should involve only a subset of the people there should be handled later among just those people.

10

Ask for the agenda in advance. No agenda? Don't go.

Once you get the agenda, if there are parts you can address, reply to them in email and have the project manager represent you.

If there are points in the agenda that sound interesting or useful, go to the meeting. That's what it's there for.

8

For internal meetings find out ahead of time what information they want and be ready with it. Provide concise, concrete answers that you have prepared ahead of time. Don't get involved in long discussions. If one arises suggest (insist) that it be held after the meeting.

For meetings with or about customers, even internal customers, do NOT cut it short. The more time you spend learning that the customer realy wants, as opposed to what the spec says, the less time you will waste coding unwanted features and rewriting code.

7

Consider a daily stand-up and planning meetings that Scrum uses. It favors quick daily communication over long weekly meetings so you can get more done.

4

Make sure any meeting you have has a clear agenda with defined goals so you know when it's over and when it's off track. Have a strong chairperson who can keep the meeting on track and make note of points that require follow-up.

3

Whenever I get a meeting invite without an agenda, I reply and say (politely) "send me an agenda or I decline the meeting".

If the agenda doesn't actually involve me, I decline.

If the agenda is just questions that I can answer in an email, I answer them. The meeting is then 5 minutes long, or they cancel the meeting request.

Works for me.

2

5 mins scrum every AM. That's it.

2

Judy Bamberger taught a class years ago on 'process' and her guidelines for meetings were encapsulated in the acronymn NEAT:

  • NATURE "Why are we here?", the goal of the meeting
  • EXPECTATIONS "What is our product?", It captures the output of the meeting - the tangible results.
  • AGENDA "How are we getting there?" The specific items and order of those items needed to accomplish the NATURE and fulfill the EXPECTATIONS.
  • TIME "When is all this happening?" Allocates time for the agenda item-by-item, or sets the limit on the length of the meeting.

Additionally, meetings of this sort are scheduled with enough time for the participants to prepare. Nothing to prepare? Why are you having a meeting?

2

A practiced technique to avoid unwanted and unnecessary meetings is to arrange to have a 'collaborator' call you 10-15 minutes into a meeting. When the call arrives you have the choice to either fake an emergency and leave or stay and contribute.

1

We tend to use voip for weekly meetings, you can just put on the headphones and code. You only need to respond when somebody directs a question at you.

1

this topic gets me so fired up i even went to the effort of writing a blog article about it:

http://pm4web.blogspot.com/2008/10/scourge-of-unnecessary-meetings.html

ive included some tactics for reducing time spent in unnecessary meetings

The bottom line is meetings are here to stay, including the unnecessary ones. This is simply a product of a corporate environment, managers are social beasts who like to talk, programmers are technical beings who like to code.

LM

0

you have beer in the office!? I'd want more meetings :-)

(oh, the best way is to set a strict timelimit. Once the limit is reached, you basically roll it up and/or just walk out. Its a management technique they teach some people IIRC. Its highly effective)

0

First step: If these meetings really are completely pointless, talk to your boss about just not going. He's got to have a vested interest in you doing productive work.

Second step: Encourage whoever's calling these meetings to distribute an agenda (just a simple list of bullet points) before the meeting. If there's no agenda, then don't attend.

I like the "it's in JIRA" and "it's on the wiki" technique, as well.

0

Meet often and keep it short, as the scrum philosophy notes. Having a weekly meeting every Monday that lasts one hour is much more intimidating than meeting every morning for 20 minutes.

0

Hire me to go to the meetings in your place. You get to have beer in your work fridge? Man, I want to move to the Netherlands.

0

Keep a log of how much time you spend in meetings and then when the project slips you can point out how much time you spent being un-productive :-)

Schedule them for an hour before lunch - they tend not to drag on then.

Better than beer in the fridge - have your meeting in a pub! They might still drag on but you will care much less.

0

dial-in?

If your meetings have dial-in numbers, you can sit at your desk and dial in.

0

As many people have already said, having a clearly defined agenda is important to keep the meeting on track. In addition, take a page from the scrum book and strictly timebox each meeting and adjourn as soon as that timebox is up. When done right this forces people to focus on the critical path, which generally makes meetings more productive. It's tough to implement, but well worth the effort IMHO.

0

I am not sure if anyone mentioned this but consider seeing if you can get some more freebies out of the meetings. Make a few of them lunch and learns to save you money and having to pay attention to the meetings. Maybe even have them at the pub ;).

An excellent thing we did at my last company was set a timer during meetings to make sure they don't take too long. We used this during scrums meetings where everyone would get to bring up any issues they were having which would remove the need for other meetings. This could just be your cooler meetings but if you can have them recognized as legitimate meetings and cancel subsequent meetings then all the power to you.

Have you tried letting the people who keep hosting these meetings know that they are not helpful? Some anonymous feedback could help let them know that the meetings are not helping at that the team does not want them. Barring that you could always convice the rest of the team to just not go, but that might seem like a muntiny.

0

I work in a small group and our project manager does an effective job of shielding us from a lot of distracting meetings. When we were having problems with it however, we approached our PM and discussed what we could do to minimize interruptions to our development time (making it clear that it was harming our development time.)

We settled on a solution that if at all possible, we are to remain uninterrupted via phone or meetings on M, W, F. Tuesday and Thursday are our meeting days: they can become total free-for-alls sometimes (read: zero work happens) but having the entire days of productivity it has provided have been very beneficial to our progress and sanity.

Of course, this requires a PM who is both understanding and willing to make an effort to help you.

0

im a project manager that used to be a programmer and i remember how much i hated meetings so i dont subject programmers to them unless its absolutely necessary. i still remember thinking "why am i in this meeting talking about how late the project is when i could be out there coding and making it less late?"

if you are a coder, your project manager should be doing everything he can to get you out of meetings.

there is a massive problem which hasnt been brought up yet in this thread - the fact that many managers like to do meetings to stroke their ego. Tom DeMarco in Peopleware calls these 'status meetings' - not because they are about getting the latest status on a project, but because they are about affirming the bosses 'bossness' status within the organisation. there may be very little you can do about this situation, after all, he is the boss right? thats kind of a loaded question since i know there are things you can do, but generally you need to be a consummate 'people-person' to pull it off, which programmers very rarely chose to be (note that im not saying programmers cant do it, they just tend to develop technology skills instead).

i have seen one company where the managing director would have weekly meetings which went for about an hour where he mostly talked at people. programmers said maybe four or five words in total during the meeting (a good indicator they didnt need to be there).

  • LM
-1

Why not use the stackoverflow method (from what I understand of it)

  • everyone gets so many points (say 10)
  • if you have a meeting you spend one point per person (no point no person)
  • at the end attendees vote - thumbs up gives you another point/down minus a point
  • the meeting organizer votes on participants (same idea)

It becomes a process of weeding out the bad meetings and bad attendees

(??might work??)