#87: The value of Meeting Agendas - an episode 83 follow up

In episode 83, I had a long chat with Trevor Ewen about how he provides software service to non-technical clients.

If you've not listened to it, it was an excellent interview full of wonderful insights.

So much so that I want to pull a number of topics from that podcast and look at them in more depth.

In this episode, I want to look at the value of meeting agendas.

Or listen at:

Published: Wed, 02 Jun 2021 16:40:50 GMT


Hello and welcome back to the Better ROI from Software Development podcast.

In Episode 83, I had a long chat with Trevor Ewen about how he provides software services to non-technical clients. If you've not listened to it, it was an excellent interview, full of wonderful insights. So much so that I wanted to pull a number of topics from that podcast and look at them in more depth.

In this episode, I want to look at meeting agendas.

In the interview, Trevor insists on having an agenda for every meeting he attends and that that agenda should be robust and cover everything that needs to be discussed, whether that be productive action or overdue invoices.

And the reason for this was Trevor was adamant that time was the ultimate asset in his business.

And I'd actually be inclined to suggest that time is probably one of the biggest assets in any business.

So you have to think, are we using that time wisely?

I've touched on this previously in Episode 71: Meetings - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

There are certainly poorly run meetings where we effectively are wasting time. It's almost become a rite of passage for people to have to spend hours per day in meetings they feel are a waste of time - that they don't believe actually deliver value to them or the organisation. They seem to think that it's almost a foregone conclusion that we have to waste that time in meetings.

So why aren't we producing proper agendas for meetings?

I often see people coming up, especially as they've progressed up through the ranks, they suddenly feel their job is to be in the meeting - not necessarily know what they're meant to be contributing to the meeting, but their job is to attend meetings.

And that really isn't true. Nobody should be employed on the basis that we need somebody to sit in this meeting.

The meeting is a means to an end.

The meeting produces very little.

It normally just helps to make decisions so that we can then go away and actually do the valuable work.

If you're in a meeting, are you performing the best work that you can, are you providing the best return to the organisation? Are those the rooms that are performing the best work?

Or, are you sat in a meeting waiting for someone to make a decision or listen to an update so you can get back to the work that you actually need to do that provides value to the organisation?

Anecdotally, I've heard from many managers that they only managed to do their work in between the meetings as they're rushing between rooms - or now rushing between virtual conferences.

So much so I even finding people trying to do their work while they're in meetings, trying to multitask, trying to do the job they should really be doing t- he thing that provides value to the organisation - while attending a meeting.

This, for me, is exceptionally poor practise and one that I try to clamp down on if I'm actually running the meeting.

Firstly, there's no point having a meeting if you're not there and you're not engaged. If you're not engaged and your mind is elsewhere, don't be in the meeting.

You're not putting your full focus into the work you're doing. Both activities suffer.

Please stop doing it.

If you need time to do work, do that work, cancel the meeting. Do not attend the meeting, do the work that is providing the value to the organisation for what you're being paid to provide.

To help you with this, think like Trevor.

Think about if you were a third party provider. Think about it as billable time.

The meeting you're in at the moment, would it be billable? Probably not.

It's probably a client conversation. Its probably a catch up.

So in terms of return on investment, you're spending time in a meeting that you can't bill for. Is that a good thing?

Are there are things you should be doing that you could be producing that would be billable, that would produce that return on investment?

Is this meeting producing billable work? If so, great, if not, then it's eating into your billable time, it's eating into your profit margins, it's eating into your ROI.

So if that would be true, if you're a third party organisation, if you're a service provider providing through billable time, why that be any different than if you actually work for the organisation?

You're still effectively billing yourself out through your wages.

So surely you need to make sure that the time that your client, in this case your employer is paying for, is used in the most effective and efficient manner.

So you have to keep asking yourself, is this meeting relevant and is it correct?

And this is what the meeting agenda helps us with.

Not only does it help us firstly identify what the meeting's for and if the meeting provides value before you even attend it, it helps us with guardrails to keep the meeting on track and not descend into a conversation about everything.

It keeps the meeting and the people attending it focussed on the job they need to do, getting it done quickly, efficiently, and then getting out of there and getting on with valuable work.

By having that agenda meeting, you can be confident from reading the agenda that going to that meeting is going to produce value and you should have an idea of where that value comes from so you could consider it billable.

Brilliant. That's excellent. That suddenly makes the meeting worth having.

And, of course by having that meeting agenda up front, you also get the other hacks that come from a good well run meeting.

For example, because it's a agendered meeting, you may be able to address the issues before the meeting even starts.

If a decision needs to be made, maybe you don't actually all need to be in the room, maybe is just a "yep, we're all happy with". We move on. You don't need to spend time on it.

We've saved all the time of going into that meeting to discuss something we will agree on. Let's get it done. Why bother having this meeting just to rubberstamp something?

On the other side of that, the agenda meeting allows us time beforehand to review what it is we're going to talk about and come up with thoughtful and helpful arguments as to why we feel certain things should be a certain way - rather than having to make up our arguments off the cuff in the meeting, we can actually spend time thinking about it and come up with a clear idea and a clear narrative of why a certain direction should be taken - why a certain process should be changed.

We're not having to think on our feed. We're able to obviously take our gut reaction, but then refine it, think about it, maybe find backup material, maybe find additional data, maybe look at other ways of looking at the problem being addressed.

And of course, the better informed and the better prepared we are for going into that meeting, the more valuable that meeting becomes.

Again, going back to that better return on investment that you're spending on being in that meeting.

And, of course, any benefit that you're getting is magnified by the size of the meeting. So the more people in that meeting, the more that it needs an agenda because you've got that impact on so many people's time.

In this episode, I've talked about providing detailed, robust agendas for meetings.

We need to have meetings.

Not all of them, but we certainly to have meetings, so let's make sure they are run effectively.

Let's make sure it's clear to everybody why we're here. Firstly, so we've got an option to decide whether we need to have the meeting in the first place or attend the meeting. And secondly, to make sure the meeting stays on track and is the most efficient, effective and productive that it can be.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode. I look forward to speaking to you again next week.