Leading Software People Productivity & Estimation

On Meetings and Wasting Time

3 minute read

Human progress comes from collaboration. People don’t hate meetings necessarily, they just hate having their time wasted.

On Meetings and Wasting Time

I’m a software developer, and I hate meetings. All software developers hate meetings. Stop scheduling them, and stop inviting us to them.

Dons giant headphones and swivels back around to the soft glow of multiple monitors.

But that’s not quite true, is it? Humans build things by collaborating and working together. Breakthroughs and progress are a group effort, and it takes all kinds of meetings for that to work.

My favorite theatrical example of this is from the movie Apollo 13, where the engineers on the ground in Houston have to figure out a way to make a square cartridge compatible with a round one in order for the astronauts in space to survive.

Now that’s a meeting.

Realistically of course, more mundane meetings are needed. Work needs to be estimated and prioritized, designs need to be hammered out, and retrospectives are necessary for finding avenues for team improvement. (You are doing retros, right?)

Since teams need to work together and therefore have meetings, the things to solve for are necessity and scheduling.

Because it’s not really meetings that everyone hates; it’s having their time wasted. And wasting someone’s time on this earth is a disrespectful and selfish thing to do.

Necessity

I have a not-so-fond memory of working at a bigger company where the meeting rooms were at a premium. Because of this, the PM felt we needed to stay in the room for the entire time we booked it whenever we had a team meeting, even if we flew through the agenda.

“Well we have the room, so what else do we need to go over?” Um, nothing. Meeting over. Let’s go work on building stuff.

There are loads of strategies for determining whether a meeting is necessary or not, and every team is different. (Let me Google the flowcharts for you.) The important thing is to set some threshold for meeting necessity, share it with your team, and refine it as needed. That way, when the meeting invite pops up in the developer’s inbox, they can assume that their time is not going to be wasted. It turns out that people are a LOT more helpful and engaged when they know that you respect their time.

Most of all, if you hit the goals for the meeting, end it.

Scheduling

If you have software developers on your team, the worst thing you can do is plop a meeting into the middle of the morning or the afternoon. “Getting into the zone” is indeed a thing for me and most developers I’ve come across, and a meeting at 10 or 11am interrupts that flow in a big way. Same with a 3pm meeting.

I recommend setting necessary meetings up at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, depending on the make-up of your team. Got a bunch of “morning people”? Then hold the conceptual or creative meetings at the beginning of the day, and do the logistical stuff at the end.

Either way, find ways to leave your developers alone for long, uninterrupted stretches in between collaborative meetings. That is when real work gets done.

TL;DR

Human progress comes from collaboration. People don’t hate meetings necessarily, they just hate having their time wasted. Set team standards for meeting necessity and scheduling to mitigate the anti-meeting sentiment.

Get a monthly digest of helpful articles from around the web for people leading software teams. Absolutely no spam, unsubscribe anytime, and we'll never share your address: