Timeboxed Meetings Foster Efficiency

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Official project meetings normally take up so much time that most see it as time wasted. How do you ensure you're getting or delivering information that you want without wasting time? How do you train your team members to be more efficient in sharing information you need?

There is one technique in agile scrum that I particularly like and have found very useful. I'm pretty sure this technique has been around for a long time, only now they have a special name for it: the timeboxed meeting.

Timeboxing is typically used when a project schedule is divided into separate time periods -- each period has its own schedule, deliverables and budget.

When you apply timeboxing to a meeting, each team member answers three questions:

  • What was done yesterday?
  • What challenges were faced?
  • What is the plan for today?
Ideally, three minutes is given to each person to answer in a timeboxed meeting. So if five people are giving updates, only 15 minutes is spent in total. Upon finishing, members immediately go back to completing their tasks. If anyone is unable to attend the meeting, an email containing answers to the three questions suffices.

In reality, having team members summarize their last 24 hours into three minutes is challenging. Without focus, and practice, they will undoubtedly fall into the trap of over-elaborating and, worse, finger pointing.

In the beginning, you might want to try five minutes per person, but reduce the number of participants. This means you will have more than one session of timeboxed meetings. As your team gets more comfortable, start reducing the time and adding team members per session.

Remember, the idea is to hold these meetings daily with the objective of sharing updated information quickly. As an added benefit, you're indirectly coaching your team members to be more focused and efficient.

As project managers, we have to determine whether a technique is counterproductive. If the idea of having a daily update meeting seems too taxing, try holding them every other day. If you feel that getting team members together at one time is difficult, improvise and ask them to send text messages or email instead.

Have you used timeboxed meeting techniques? What methods do you use to increase the reporting efficiency within your project team?

Posted by Hajar Hamid on: October 19, 2011 11:37 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Nina Kelley-Rumpff
I work in a cross-functional setting, as many project managers do, where my team members work on multiple projects as well as their "regular" (non-project) jobs. Therefore, daily meetings are unrealistic.

However, the same approach can be applied to weekly team meetings as well, simply change the questions to what have you done in the past week, what were your challenges, and what are your plans for the coming week.

Your team will thank you for keeping the meeting focused and efficient.

Nick Oostvogels
In all companies I've worked, it was possible to find 15 minutes per day where every team member could attend.

We even did this at the start of lunch-time, which may seem offensive, but since it was only 15 minutes, everybody was OK with it.
Especially since we could get the entire team together, which created major added value (just for the record, the 15 minutes was not subtracted from the 1 hour lunch-time).

One tip to keep this meeting short: visualize!

In a Scrum project we visualize the process on a task board. This makes it much easier to remember what people worked on the previous day and which tasks are next.

Jon Terry
The effective use of a Kanban board (physical sticky notes or electronic) to visualize the team's work and where it falls in the delivery process can drastically reduce the time required to cover a given amount of scope in a standup meeting.

It's unnecessary to have each person ask/answer the 'three Agile questions' when the answer is on the board. The team need only discuss those process steps that are bottle-necked, those work items that are blocked, and cases of resource contention.This can allow for shorter meetings, 5-10 minutes, or holding meetings for a department rather than just a team.

This second approach can mitigate the hyper-matrixed resource problem mentioned by Nina - although the truth is anyone split on to that many projects isn't really effective.

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