How to run meetings effectively

I have been reading on how to run meetings effectively and be considerate of others time. Here is a compilation from what I learnt. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35%–55% of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. Of the approximately 11 million meetings that take place every day in the US, a third are unproductive. It comes at a cost. An estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings, in the US alone. 

Successful executives like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs developed their own techniques to combat bad meetings and here’s how Steve Jobs did it:

  1. At Apple, any meeting should have a clear agenda. (Also, it is good to be clear of the venue and the time)
  2. He kept meetings as small as possible. To Steve Jobs, the core idea of an effective meeting is for it not to be crowded.
  3. He made sure someone was responsible for each item on the agenda. He called that person, Directly Responsible Individual or DRI. The DRI would own the task, facilitate discussion around the agenda item and often manage post-meeting actions about it. (Research shows that clearly and publicly attaching a name to a task fosters accountability. This, in turn, increases follow-through)
  4. Conclude agenda topics with actions or next steps. Each action item will have a DRI and the deadline or time to complete.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson insists everyone stands in meetings. If you’re standing, you’re not going to chitchat for too long, and you’re not going to have long, drawn-out conversations. 

Agile teams have standup meetings, timeboxed between 5 to 15 mins, with participants standing up to remind people to keep the meeting short and to-the-point and usually take place at the same time and place every working day, with the simple 3 point agenda: 

  1. What I did yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. Am I facing any challenges in accomplishing my sprint goals?

Now, let’s see how to create the Perfect Meeting Agenda. Consider creating it as a set of questions to be addressed:

  • Instead of a topic titled “Budget Problems,” consider a question such as, “How will we reduce our spending by 100K by the end of the fiscal year”?
  • Instead of a topic titled, “Customer Process Improvement,” consider a question like, “What are the key ways of improving overall response time to customers by 25%?”
  • Instead of a topic titled “Leader Succession,” try changing it to “Where are we vulnerable from a leadership turnover perspective and how might we address these vulnerabilities?”
  • Instead of a topic titled “Continuing Our Strategic Planning,” try changing it to what exactly will be worked on in the meeting such as, “What is the key market threat we need to be aware of, how could it affect us, and what can we do about it?”
  • Instead of a topic titled, “Miscellaneous Updates,” try changing it to “What key pieces of information do each of you have to share or need from one another?”

A question-and-answer approach makes it easier to determine your invitation list, for one: it’s the people essential to answering the questions. This approach also better informs when to actually end a meeting — when the questions have been answered to satisfaction.

  • Design questions that are specific and challenging.
  • Collaborate to identify questions that truly matter.
  • Privilege the most important questions first.
  • Execute on the agenda.

And remember: if you can’t think of any questions to be answered in a meeting, that may be your sign that a meeting is simply not needed. Give back the gift of time to would-be attendees. They will thank you.

Let’s also see a few Meeting Mistakes:

  • You don’t have a strong agenda.
  • You invite too many people. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule: No meeting should have more people than can be fed with a pair of pepperoni pies. This not only allows for quicker decisions, it also lets teams test their ideas without the interference of groupthink
  • You don’t have a facilitator.
  • You don’t establish and follow ground rules.
  • Not starting a meeting on time. A whopping 37% of meetings start late, mostly because someone attending it was late
  • You listen to the loudmouth, rather than the expert.
  • You use your phone.
  • You drink too much coffee or eat during the meeting.
  • You indulge in small talk. (Leave the small talk for the water cooler.)

Term of the post: meetingitis –  An excessive tendency to hold unnecessary meetings.

To summarise: 

Effective Meeting = Agenda + Action Items + Responsible Individual + Timeline

References and Additional resources:

Note taking – a productivity hack

A pen and a notebook have been a great productivity tool for me. I take notes and ToDos. I write down deadlines and important dates. When a ToDo item is Done, I strike it off, so as to keep track of what is pending. For taking notes, I prefer to use a spiral sketchbook that is turned over by the side rather than a notepad that is turned over at the top. Why note taking has been a crucial skill for me as a tester. I take notes,

  • About an application under test
  • During requirement discussions
  • During testing, making notes of issues
  • For test idea generation
  • To keep track of the queries
  • To keep track of the issues
  • To keep track of the deliverables, deadlines and it’s status
  • To remember important points during calls and conferences
  • To note down ideas or suggestions …etc.

The benefits of note taking:

  • “Note taking isn’t just about recording information. Effective note taking is thinking on paper.” – Nicole Liem Yang of Show Me the Notes
  • Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas, there’s good evidence that the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better.
  • By jotting down what you need to remember later, you can then turn your focus on what you’re hearing or reading. You will have room to ask follow up questions or clarifications
  • Notes help us to prioritize the important. 
  • Notes help to eliminate the communication gap.

We have smartphones and laptops. Then why use notebooks?

  • You have a significantly higher chance of achieving your goals if you write them down. This is likely why vision boards or lean visual controls have become popular. 
  • We can always have that handy and in sight, thus reminding us of our priorities.

A few tips on note taking:

  • Keep it short. Yet, it should be clear so that you understand when you refer to it next time.
  • Don’t write down every single word.
  • Focus on important points.
  • Use abbreviations or short-hand writing.
  • Forget spelling and grammar.

Here are a few note taking methods

  • Cornell Style of Note Taking
  • The Outlining Method
  • Mind Mapping

One of the greatest note-takers was Leonardo Da Vinci, whose notes (Codex Leicester) were bought by Bill Gates for over $30 million and are exhibited today to the public.

References: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Note-taking

The Importance of Note Taking to Being Successful

Note-taking as a Skill for Testers

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/writing-and-remembering-why-we-remember-what-we-write.html

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/advice-for-students-taking-notes-that-work.html

Lean Visual Management Tools: 5 Types of Visual Controls

How to telecommute / work from home effectively?

What is telecommuting?

Telecommuting, also called working from home, remote work, telework, or teleworking, is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse or store and work from home, coffee shop or a place of their choice. Below listed are a few points to help you telecommute / work from home effectively:

  • Take pride in your work.
  • Start early – you can get a lot done with a fresh mind.
  • At the home office, no one’s watching. You are responsible for what you do.
  • Communicate expectations with anyone who will be at home with you so that they don’t distract/disturb you.
  • Pretend like you are going to office. Don’t stay in the nightdress/pyjamas. Structure your day like you would do in office. This helps you to be focused and productive.
  • Choose a dedicated workspace – Setting your work space apart from your home space allows you to better delineate the two, and lets your brain know when it needs to be in work mode or home mode.
  • Set goals for the day, create a To-Do list and commit to doing things. Using a simple notepad and pen works better. Write down and strike off as you finish a task.
  • Set deadlines for tasks.
  • Work in Sprints – to allow yourself dedicated time to a task at hand, work in sprints of no more than an hour at a time before you take a break. This way, your main task gets your entire focus for the allotted time, and then you can take a break for a few minutes to recharge.
  • Save calls for the afternoon.
  • Use technology smartly, to stay connected. (Ex. Skype, Slack, Hangout, Microsoft Teams)
  • Communicate Deliberately. Remote workers have to be better at communication than their office brethren.
  • Communicate well and often. Check in with co-workers and the boss several times a day.
  • Find the team’s golden hour – it makes sense to find the time when the majority of the team is available, so that you can schedule daily standup or all-hands meetings or other important events during that time.
  • Be virtually present in meetings.
  • Every 1 hour, take short and clear breaks. Get up and get outside to the balcony, for a while. Coffee breaks and lunch allow for some respite and time away from the desk and screen.
  • Follow the 20/20/20 rule – look away from the screen, every 20 mins, to something 20 feet away, for 20 secs.
  • Don’t go to non-work appointments in the middle of the day.
  • Make it harder for yourself to mess around on social media and TV. Resist the impulse.
  • Resist the urge to snack often.
  • Set office hours. Pick a definitive start and finishing time each day.
  • Have a shutdown ritual – this could be anything, from writing up what you did during the day and planning what you want to achieve tomorrow.
  • Do not forget to update the status for the day with the team and the manager.
  • Follow a routine – waking up, exercise, breakfast, logging in to work, lunch, logging out of work, evening family time, dinner, sleep. Routines help you to be organised.
  • As a manager,
    • Be proactive. Reach out to your team members regularly to set clear goals and expectations, offer support and assistance, and show you care about them as people, not just employees
    • Provide the right tools for the employees
    • Communicate clearly
    • Set clear expectations
    • Track progress
    • Be transparent
  • Remember to stay healthy,
    • Exercise regularly
    • Clean home creates a positive environment and helps focus.
    • Drink plenty of water
    • Eat healthy
    • Maintain proper hygiene
    • Get some fresh air, take a few deep breaths
    • Maintain a good posture
    • Take short breaks, quick walks, and do a few stretches
    • Put aside your devices at night
    • Have enough sleep at night and feel sufficiently rested

Every remote worker can have their own version of this list that helps them work to their full potential and be 100% productive for their team.

PS: I had compiled and shared this with my team 2 years back, when we had to work from home for a few days. Sorry that I do not remember the exact links or the sites, to provide reference here. Re-sharing it now for the benefit of all those who are privileged to have an option of working from home.

An officer and a gentleman.

*Proud to be an alumnus 🙂

SANJAY KAUL'S WEBLOG

 

Sainik Schools  are one of our best experiments with regimental learning. They have produced sterling candidates – both soldiers and citizens. In a time of growing shortage of officers in the armed forces, why are we so short of such schools? 

Just 86 cadets joined the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun in 2008 against a course strength of 250. And, instead of 300 applicants, just 192 turned up at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, at Pune. Defence Minister AK Antony has admitted that the shortage of officers in the Army is around 11,500. In the Navy, the shortage is 1606. The number of vacancies in the Air Force is 1342.

There is an element of irony to the figures of shortage of officers that has been put out by the Ministry of Defence for some years now. The irony is that the shortage has only widened after the deficit…

View original post 1,455 more words

Tryst with Moolya

Who I was as a professional?
 
Fresh from college, with high hopes and excitement that I ll earn on my own and can spend what I earned without seeking anyone’s permission, I joined an Indian MNC IT firm (glad that the firm gave me a chance to work there). There was 3 months of training, followed by induction. I got trained in testing and was assigned to testing projects.
 
What I did for the first 6 months?
I was executing the test cases drafted by my senior colleagues in the team and reporting any discrepancies (as per the script) I found in the application I was testing.
 
What I did for the next 2-2.5 years?
I was drafting test cases on my own and executing the same and looking for any deviations from my test cases, which was drafted as per the requirement/functional specifications provided by the customer.
 
What I did for the next two years?
I drafted test cases, executed test cases and made phone calls to onsite coordinators to clarify all my queries. Apart from these routine tasks, I was also drafting test plan (during the start of the project) and test report (when the project completes). I ll be given exclusive 3 day to draft test plan and test results, which were never referred later. I was also acting as test lead, which involves coordinating offshore activities related to testing.
 
How I was after 5.5 years?
All that I did was verify whether the application under test was in accordance with the specs. (only functional). I never bothered about UX, Performance, Security…etc as there were exclusive teams for these activities. I also learnt something related to Six Sigma, Lean and Agile (We tried implementing)
In toto, as a tester I was dumb. Adding fuel to this were the programmers/developers, who show off their ego, which results in testers getting sidelined and not looked upon with dignity. I never felt proud to call myself as a tester (until I joined Moolya). When someone asks me what I do, I would say I am a tupperware (improvised dabba) tester. But I was enjoying, in the sense, very less work and more comfort.
 
 
How did I proceed further?
My long term aspirations were different. I aspire to be an entrepreneur, build my own company. I wanted to come out of the comfort zone and experience the startup environment. I googled for startups in Bangalore and selectively applied for a few starups. Glad that Moolya was one among those. I m not flattering. Prior to joining Moolya, I had visited ThoughtWorks a couple of times. ThoughtWorks describes itself as “…A social and commercial community whose purpose is to revolutionize software creation and delivery while advocating for positive social change in the world.” They pick very extra ordinary and brilliant programmers, put them together and see what can happen. As a result, they have contributed so much to the open source community.
 
Ok, coming to the point, what I realised after joining Moolya. Moolya intends to do the same with testers, what ThoughtWorks does with programmers. Create a pool of extraordinary, rebellious and cool testers, to change the way testing is done and is supposed to be done. I learn’t good and real testing after joining Moolya. (I still have a lot more to learn too). I in am small way for now, helped my customers, see some value of my testing. Here I never look at the count of bugs I reported but at the way the product has improved. I tried pair programming. Whole heartedly followed the agile manifesto ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’. For now at least watched how security testing is done, tried my hands on performance, learnt bug advocacy and started using oracles and heuristics for testing. One such heuristics is my defect reporting mechanism in an easy and cost effective way. I collaborated using the Google docs. for bug reporting, where we followed the Colour code:
 
No Colour – Reported and yet to be worked upon
Red – Critical and requires urgent attention
Amber – Partially fixed
Strike through – when the product owner rejects the defect
Green – Fixed
 
And I conceptualized this with the theme go green, which means, as the sheet becomes greener, the product becomes better. Apart from testing, as a value add, I did a competitor analysis for our customer, broadly based on the Product, Segment, Geography, Features/Offerings,  Key highlights, Threats, Rates/Pricing, Demo/Free usage, Menu tour to give a better picture to the product owners.
 
I am very glad that testers (now I m proud to say that I m a tester) in Moolya are encouraged to be courageous, crazy, learn a lot, follow and read blogs of famous testers around the world, play and have fun, providing us a happy and cool work environment. Moolya has instilled the pride in me as a tester. I have gradually started practicing testing as a craft 🙂 
 
Now I propose the ‘Dignity of a Tester’
“If a man is called to be a tester, he should test even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should test so well that all the user of the web and app will pause to say, here lived a great tester who did his job well.” 

which I have tweaked and adapted from Martin Luther King Jr’s quote

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”– Steve Jobs
 
P.S. This is not an attempt to flatter my company neither am I demeaning my previous employer)