On meetings...

A developer's nightmare: a day dominated by meetings.

Now, this isn't at all what my typical day at Igalia is like... In fact, while it does still happen (out of necessity), it's rare here. And I find that quite amazing when compared to my time at a previous employer. Anyways, because of past experiences at a previous employer, I've always been on this mission to remove or reduce my need to attend meetings, as much as possible. Mainly because I often think I have better things I could be using my time for at the exact day/time of each meeting 😅. It's not really a secret that meetings are expensive. In case it's not clear yet: I don't like to have a lot of meetings! 1

Aaanyways, this happened to me recently2, my day was dominated by a series of meetings. And it got me thinking about how this could be improved. I'm pretty sure that none of the meetings could have been canceled, or that I could have skipped any of them. So what else could be done if the meeting must go on and I am required to be there?

Two possible things come to mind: 1) reduce the meeting time, 2) improve the "quality"3 of the topics/material covered. Those two things aren't always directly related, you can obviously have a 1 hour meeting that covers exactly 1 topic in excruciating detail, or you could have a 30 minute meeting that covers 10 topics poorly. But if you can effectively cover (for example) 5 topics on average in a 1 hour meeting and you only have 2 topics on the agenda, your meeting time is probably going to be shorter. Wow! Or if you can cover 5 topics in that a full 1 hour meeting and it's "engaging" and all that (i.e. high "quality"), then I'm probably going to feel like my time was well spent there. Or if I look at the topics ahead of time then I might feel a little more comfortable skipping the meeting if I had to, or if my attendance is optional.

I think that sounds nice... So how could you do that consistently, or at least more consistently? I guess the meeting organizer could follow something like this before every meeting:

  1. Do some pre-screening of topics

  2. and pick ones that are most relevant / unresolved.

  3. Of those, pick the ones that have the most info available at meeting time, so they're ready (or as close to being so) to discuss "live" in a meeting.

  4. Then, allow any time-sensitive topics to preempt any/all topics on the agenda, if necessary.

If I'm the organizer, I don't want to do all of that by myself. I am probably not knowledgeable in every possible topic that might come up, and it might be hard for me to determine if a topic is "ready" enough to spend meeting time on. And it's even harder to gently, and regularly, push other people into helping along with some process like that.

I was looking over the list of topics in an upcoming postmarketOS core team meeting, and realized that we might have accidentally4 stumbled on a neat way to achieve something kinda like the above process, but more naturally:

The postmarketOS core team maintains a collection of topics for future team meetings in a shared notes thing, and any participant can propose topics, ask questions about a topic, etc for some number of days/weeks beforehand. That's it.

As a result, sometimes topics are:

On the day of the meeting, we quickly run through all of the proposed topics to set the agenda, moving any that aren't "ready" to some future meeting. Then we start going through the agenda. It's probably obvious but if some time-sensitive topic came in then we'd usually agree to discuss it regardless of what we had already planned.

In a way, we're "crowdsourcing"5 this pre-meeting work to all the participants, who probably want to use their time during the meeting effectively, or not have the meeting if it's not necessary. So, in theory at least, they might be motivated to help make that happen. And it's neat that all of this can happen before the meeting, completely asynchronously between everyone.

There's definitely a lot more to actually running an effective meeting beyond having a "good agenda". Our meetings still go off-topic at times. But I feel that this is some improvement, when we all have an opportunity to help shape the topics/agenda this way. I'll try to spend a little more time ahead of postmarketOS team meetings thinking about the proposed topics and asking questions, or proposing my own topics. Because it can happen asynchronously, I can do this whenever I feel like it. And if there's a chance it helps reduce the overall meeting time or it results in a more effective meeting, why not?

1 Do you?

2 To be fair, I didn't feel like any of the meetings I attended were poorly run or were a waste of time, but sometimes it's fun to think about how things could be improved further. Ya, I have a weird definition of "fun".

3 By "quality", I mean that topics are well-researched and presented by someone knowledgeable on the subject, folks are at least a little aware of what the topic is, and time was spent trying to anticipate questions that others might have. And so on. This is hard to achieve.

4 Or someone much smarter than me did this intentionally, for the same reasons, and I'm just now realizing it. If they did then ssshhhhhhh let me have my moment.

5 Ugghhhh.....