News, Q’s and Views: Making team meetings better

I work as part of a team of leaders. Each of us has responsibility for one or more teams working on parts of BestBuy.com’s overall Platform effort. We’re also responsible as a team for developing and communicating a view of the Platform architecture, and for providing architectural support and insight to other projects and efforts that touch on Best Buy’s presence on the web. So we’re busy, but sharing information is vitally important. To make this happen, we have a standup every morning.

It’s not a traditional standup, since we’re not am agile team. We have standups with our teams that do use that format, but for our own standup, we’ve evolved a different methodology that works really well. It took us a while to figure out, but it’s been stable for months, and serves us really well.

Our original approach didn’t work very well. We started out trying to do the Three Questions, but we were mostly talking about our calendars, since Best Buy has a lot of meetings. We’ve managed to keep our dev teams out of most of those, but as leaders, we’re stuck with them. And some of them are really useful – we learn things, give information and make decisions, so it’s not all bad.

The problem we were having is that each of us had a variable amount of information to share, and some of it required discussion. So sometimes Jason’s update would take 10 minutes, because we were covering something important, and then Steve would take another 10, and then we’re trying to get me, Arun, Joel and Tanmay in in the last 10 minutes. Hope we didn’t have something that required serious discussion!

We started trying to use a parking lot, which helped a bit – as we discovered things requiring discussion, they could go into the parking lot, and our updates could go faster. Plus, knowing how much was in the parking lot could help us divvy up time to get through it and end on time. But that wasn’t enough – we were still discovering that stuff during the process of updating, and taking time to capture it to the board. And a parking lot is a practice that needs to be invoked: when Tanmay’s update sparks a question from me, Steve needs to step in and remind us that it’s an item for the parking lot. That takes time and creates breaks in the rhythm. And it wasn’t dealing with one of the unproductive things that comes up, which is venting about the things that go wrong but we can’t change.

So one day I walked in and, on a whim, wrote three categories on the board:
– News
– Questions
– Rants

As the team walked in, I explained that we could use this to categorize our parking lot.
– If we had a piece of information to share that would take a minute or more, it should go into News.
– If we had something that would require discussion, feedback or input – any kind of conversation, really – it should go into Questions.
– And if we just wanted to vent about something, it should go into Rants.

It went really well. Separating out “things I need to tell you about” from “things I need to ask you about” is really helpful, the general rule that anything more than 60 seconds goes on the board helps to keep individual updates short, and perhaps best of all, the visual indicator of the amount to cover helps us all stay focused and move quickly when we need to.

Perhaps best of all, explicitly recognizing that some of the stuff we are doing is just ranting is really helpful. You can write down the title of your rant and leave it at that – simply letting the team know that you want to rant about the firewall, or data problems in QA, or Powerpoint, can take the place of actually needing to do it. It’s cathartic.

Over the past months, we’ve amended the final column into Views, rather than Rants, both because it rhymes (News, Q’s and Views) and because sometimes we want to share things that are going well instead of just ranting.

If you have a similar team meeting need, I encourage you to give it a try. Let me know what you think.

One thought on “News, Q’s and Views: Making team meetings better

  1. Corwin

    Fantastic. Traditional standups seem to be working well for us, but this definitely goes under the flip cover in the wallet. PS. Traditional standups? I begin to feel something… Perhaps it is age.

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