In a Conference Room, No One Can Hear You Scream

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Lots of big projects start out with marathon meetings; the kind where the business owners go over what they want with the tech team.

This kind of meeting sounds like a good idea because it puts everyone in the same room for a long time; the logic being that if the core members of the project are in the same place at the same time, collaboration is inevitable.

Intuitively we know this isn’t very efficient. These meetings are always painful, which is strange, since everyone attending shares the same goal: a successful project. Still, most of us lurch out beat up and drained. Real collaboration should feel good. Exciting.

The big meeting creates a long-running ping pong match, with each side working to fire the ball back to the other’s court.

In the meeting, stakeholders tell the developers what they want. They know the business case, and they know what they want to do for the solution. It’s easy to get defensive. Questions about corner cases can seem like attacks on the project itself.

“PING”

When the business owners are describing their requirements, we technologists start cataloging the reasons its impossible to deliver what’s being asked for. The business might dismiss this as harping on details or failure to understand the big picture.

“PONG”

When the meeting ends, everyone heads back to their desks. Developers write up estimates and designs. They may even code a litte. The business owners go back and further refine their ideas and features.

In the next mammoth session the game continues. Devs raise their litany of issues and the business present their updated ideas. The business thinks the devs are nitpicking again, and developers think they’re getting and more meaningless requirements.

The key is to have true collaboration instead of gladiator matches with whiteboards and notepads. Visit the stakeholders outside of the meeting to go over some of the gnarly details. Use it as a mini closed-door summit. Nobody ever has to know what kinds of things you discussed or offered, only that the results were achieved.

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