Home » Communication » Lessons Learned From Microsoft Meeting Madness

Photo: Ted Warren/Associated Press

Photo: Ted Warren/Associated Press

The other thing that I love looking at is how much time am I spending in meetings vs. what I would call focused time. You absolutely need to be in meetings, because, after all, you don’t do a CEO’s job by locking yourself in your room. But at the same time, there’s got to be a right balance. Are you trying to lower the number of meetings? We have some measures [to ascertain] if you have lots of redundant layers of people attending meetings. You can in fact have a more effective meeting by having the right set of folks in there to be able to make the right kind of decision as fast as you can. So I would say it’s not the number of meetings that matter, it’s the effectiveness of the meetings. We also look at the number of other meetings that got spawned because of the meeting, because one of the greatest wastes of time could be a CEO sets up a meeting, and there are 15 prep meetings in order to get to the CEO’s meeting. Satya Nadella CEO Microsoft, Bloomberg Businessweek, August 8, 2016.

One senior manager barked at me “Meetings are how we manage!” I had been on a long campaign to reduce the number of meetings. I had demonstrated that some quality review meetings were no better than random decisions on improving the quality of our product (e.g., we could replace them by just randomly reprioritizing defects). I had eliminated requirements review boards by establishing a small set of business rules that defined what requirements changes would be automatically approved, which would be automatically disapproved and which would be discussed (where I would then call a meeting). I had also replaced status meetings, where we discussed “when will this defect be repaired or when will this feature be completed,” with current trends on the average (and 95%) rate of defect repair and feature completion durations.

What the barking senior manager didn’t get was that all those meetings were really a symptom of bad management habits and in particular the results of poor planning and subsequent poor communications. When we don’t understand the projects issues we are managing then we often resort to a torrent of meetings thinking these will sort out the problems. Here we confuse what we see as project issues with what is often, again, bad management habits (e.g., aggressive schedules, etc.). So the fix is centered on seeing why we seem to want a meeting and then fixing that underlying issue (e.g., better schedule, having a published project plan, etc.).

For more on successful planning: Project Planning Secrets

For successful aggresive schedules: It’s The Schedule, Stupid

For more on business rules: We Need Rules Not Meetings

For more on meeting madness:  Meeting Madness? Don’t Do It

Nothing Microsoft’s CEO was quoted as saying above made me feel that Microsoft had its meetings under control.  Instead it sounded like the typical responses I’ve heard in organizations that were having meeting madness and were not on a reasonable path to achieving more effective meetings.

Are your project meetings effective or are they just symptoms of bad management habits?

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