My Agile Life: More Talking Less Meeting

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

More on my use of “Agile” and Scrum in my life!

As I’ve noted, doing personal Agile (in my case Scrum) makes you more aware of ways Agile goes wrong on the job or in your friend’s jobs. It’s contrast, because you can get your life running smoothly with Agile, so breakdowns elsewhere become more apparent.

An important part of Agile is that people communicate, often several times a day, perhaps even unscheduled. This asynchronous communication lets them meet and talk as needed, making the team open and adaptable. It turns development into a dialogue and is about meeting as needed, not meetings.  Communication is meaningful.

Sure there’s the classic Scrum standup (often done in non-scrum processes) but that’s the bare minimum. Good Agile is about good communications, and that doesn’t mean endlessly sitting in conference rooms. That means dialogue when you need it.

Even solo Agile requires communications that can be spontaneous – maybe even moreso when, say, you need to ask someone if they know what it is you found while cleaning the garage.

I’m guessing that if you’re doing Agile at work – and perhaps at home – you’ve got a lot of items blocked because you can’t get ahold of people. Hell, even if you’re not doing Agile I’m going to guess that you need a lot of signoffs to get things moving.  Those signoffs are probably not happening.

My guess is things aren’t moving. You can’t get people to respond. No one is talking but everyone is busy.

What do we do when we need people? We schedule a meeting. Then we have more meetings . . . and it’s harder to reach people.

Remember my theory that we can’t reduce meetings due to meetings? Yeah, this sounds familiar. We also have so many meetings we can’t talk to people.

We’re now so busy talking, because we didn’t talk, that we can’t talk.

So let me make a further radical proposal in Agile – if you have to schedule meetings to take care of five or ten minute touchbases, maybe you’ve got too damn many meetings as it is. OK, my guess is you always think you have too many meetings, but if you’re endlessly blocked because you can’t talk to someone, then it’s out of hand. I’ll also bet most people are blocked because of . . . meetings.

Let’s fix this.

Imagine if you worked on decreasing meetings, but increased the ability for communicating. Dream a dream like this:

  1. Start cutting out meetings, period. Encourage people to read reports, signoff, and look at information radiators. Verify don’t brief, use tacit signoff.
  2. Encourage spontaneous communication when possible. Sure, you’d have to set up some rules so people weren’t bombarded, but it’d help. Besides, when people practice open communication they also learn when not to interrupt others.
  3. Encourage people to block time on calendars where they cant’t be bothered. I do this at home and at work – when I have to focus, I get me some me time. A big calendar block of “DON’T BUG ME” does wonders.
  4. If you have problems, schedule Open Hours for important folks, where people know they’re available. Think of it as a middle ground between spontaneous communication and regular meetings.

There’s my radical thought of the day. If you start reducing meetings, maybe people will actually communicate.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve