Agile has gained ground, from being a grassroots approach to the software development cycle into a well-established process that can deliver better results in less time. Although Agile was created as a methodology for software development, it is rapidly evolving into a universal method of decision-making and problem-solving.
Agile requires effective communication amongst all team members and stakeholders, and meetings can often be the Achilles heel of Agile development. However, the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” doesn’t place a specific emphasis on meetings per se, but on efficient face-to-face communication. This face-time can take several forms and can vary based on the particular implementation, whether it be Scrum, Kanban, or otherwise.
We can maximize the usefulness of our meetings by understanding five of the key principles behind Agile face time, and then identify where we can implement them into our own workplace culture.
1. Stand Rather than Sit
A key component of Agile development is the “daily standup,” during which teams hold a quick meeting to share their project information for the day. What might not be obvious at first glance is that the standup aspect is of particular importance. The discomfort of lengthy standing sessions keeps the conversation short and focused.
A beneficial side-effect of the short standup meeting is that it should ALWAYS start on time. Team members who are chronically late will eventually get the message that if they are not present for the full meeting, they are undermining their own contributions to the project.
2. Keep Meetings Relevant to All Attendees
One of the biggest hassles with meetings is their tendency to involve only a couple of participants, while the others hopelessly stare at one another. The Scrum framework for Agile emphasizes that a large group meeting is no place for focused problem-solving. When an area of concentrated discussion is identified, the involved participants should put that conversation on hold and conduct their own follow-up after the group meeting.
A meeting can be kept on task by asking all participants to follow a particular outline, which usually looks something like:
- Progress since the last meeting.
- Anticipated work ahead.
- Barriers to progress.
- Ask other participants for collaboration or assistance when necessary.
3. Pass the Koosh Ball
As high-schoolish as it may sound, using an object to identify who’s speaking can work wonders toward improving meeting productivity. When a participant receives the Koosh ball or another token, they are automatically reminded to follow the outline in brief form.
Many Agile practitioners take this to the next level by introducing randomness. The Koosh ball is thrown instead of passed to randomize who speaks next. It also keeps everyone on their toes!
4. Conduct Meetings at the Task Board (you do have a task board, right?)
Agile is focused on maximizing the productivity and adaptability of a particular team. In actual practice, you may be a member of several different teams. Each team should have a physical task board that is updated in real time as milestones are achieved, issues are resolved, and changes are incorporated.
Meetings should be held around the task board in order to provide a visual representation of the project’s overall vision, progress, and obstacles. This can eliminate a lot of document shuffling amongst team members and help to ensure that all participants understand the current state of progress and what lies ahead.
5. Sprint to the Finish
Many projects are too complex to fully conceptualize from the outset. This can manifest itself in meetings that drift aimlessly from subject to subject. Work can be divided into “sprints,” which define incremental steps that can be easily grasped. Only when a particular sprint is complete do we begin discussion on the next hurdle.
An important component of a sprint is the timebox or duration until completion. Sprints should ideally be timeboxed between one week and one month. During the early stages of a project, a sprint planning meeting is held to identify the initial dividing points for sprints. No need to worry about those tribbles though, the meeting can be kept to a single concise session by understanding that sprints will likely be redefined as the project progresses (Agile is all about modifying specifications on the fly). Therefore, there’s no need to dive into too many details at once.
Over time, meetings can devolve into a symbol of workplace drudgery, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With some attention given to the form and scope of meetings, productivity and efficiency can be drastically improved. And who knows, with these five Agile face-time principles at your disposal, meetings might actually become interesting and fun!
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