A joke I heard once was that in an 8 hour day, Agile has 7 hours of meetings and 1 hour of work. There can be some truth to it if you let it happen.
I think the worst I ever experienced was 6 hours of meetings and 2 hours of work, but that only lasted about a week. And there was one time I was on a conference call for 9+ hours straight (That was a horrible day). In both cases, it had to do with people not being able to confirm or settle on anything but insisting we still all had to talk about it. How about you go and think about it, so we can get other work done?
You Don’t Always Need Everyone
In the case of the 9-hour plus phone call, I was a minor player. I wasn’t really needed at all. I asked a couple of times if I could drop off the call and they kept telling me they would get to me in a minute. It was clear they just collected everyone on a list for what amounted to only a small percent of them needing to be present to work out some details.
I also worked in an office during that time, using an office phone that was attached to the wall. I had to convince my desk neighbor to go get lunch for me and bring it back. Finally, after 9 hours, they decided to break for the day.
The next day, I was on a conference call with them again. As with the day before, about four hours in you could hear people eating lunch. About that time, someone brought up actually taking a break for lunch. They did, and I never dialed back into the call and I sent them an email to get back to me with their request. 13 hours of wasting my time exceeded my limit; the only reason I tolerated it for that long, was because it was a customer call.
Two days later they finally brought me in for what I needed to do – I answered three questions for them.
The end result was about 15 people sitting and listening to a few people talk about 1 aspect of 1 project for at least 13 hours. I am not sure how many stayed for the marathon past the 13 hours.
We don’t always consider the jobs of other people when we make meetings. We can try to justify things by saying its good for people to learn about other parts of a project or other parts of a program, maybe their expertise and experience can help. The result can end up being a collaboration call with 15 people who have no idea what you are talking about.
Whether it be a whole program or a single project, you don’t always need everyone in a meeting. If I am calling a project-wide meeting to discuss things specific to the database team, I may be wasting the time of the programmers or others involved.
In Agile, the tendency is often to focus on whole group collaboration. This isn’t always needed and it isn’t required by Agile. It is just what people think they need to do when Agile stresses collaboration. The more collaboration gets stressed in an environment, the more meetings people have where they end up not being needed and wasting their time.
Just Enough Collaboration, but Progress Needs to be Made
The idea within Agile is to collaborate with customers just enough so that you can complete some work. Everyday customer collaboration may be excessive in many situations. If you aren’t making progress and spending too much time in meetings discussing the details of the work, it may be time to rethink your collaboration approach and the customer may have to decide what they actually want.
This is one reason why many Agile approaches utilize a time-boxed iterative approach. You complete enough collaboration to create this increment. If you are not using an iterative and incremental approach, you need to ensure that the collaboration is not looking too far into the future.
If your project is to build two modules, A and B, and you are currently building the first module A, you probably don’t need to collaborate much on module B right now. You may need to know that module A at some point in the future has to work with module B, but you are building module A right now and you don’t need all the details of module B. You need just enough to ensure that you prepare module A will work.
We need to have more collaboration with a purpose, and less collaboration because we think it is what we are supposed to do. Agile should not define the frequency and duration of our customer collaboration or any collaboration. Collaboration should be done as needed.
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