Meeting Fu

When it comes to business, one of the greatest pains are the glut of meetings the average large corporation insists on having. As a programmer, I have come to the point where I estimate any project at least three times the amount of hours I actually need to do it, in part to leave room for mistakes and redesigns, but mostly to cover the seemingly endless meetings the client will wish to have.

The worst offender of wasted time is the Status Meeting with the client. Now, Status Meetings with your manager or with other team members can be quite productive, but with the client its just because they want to see work being done. The first problem is that not all work can be seen by the client. If the code I have worked on has made part of the program function better, or differently behind the scenes, then there is no screen I can show the client to say “Look what I did”. This results in two behaviors:

1) The stack of paper. When a client insists on Status Meetings being face to face, I cannot go to the meeting empty handed. Despite the fact that my job as a programmer is almost entirely paperless, I have a stack of paper in a drawer of my desk that contains print outs of sections of code (from my personal web page), spreadsheets (of comic books and a sample timesheet I made for a friend), manuals (for my universal remote among other things), and a complete guide to Teradata specific query formats. Thrown on top will often be one or two emails printed that concern the project from the client I am meeting with, and two pads of paper, one with a task list (a huge TO DO scrawled at the top) with items crossed out and one with various ramblings and scribblings. I take all this stack of well thumbed paper with me to the meeting, and then periodically I will shuffle through it before pulling out a random piece of paper and then either agreeing or disagreeing with the client.

2) Useless screen modifications. During the project planning stages, I will suggest that certain changes get made to the layout of the screens, more often the initial design of the screens is done UOP (Ugly On Purpose) so that they can be fixed later. Clients absolutely love to see things move around the screen to new places, especially if they believe it is their personal input that is resulting in the changes (one item may clearly belong on the left side of the screen, but I will place it on the right and try to get the client to suggest we move it to the left). All this designing and redesigning pages wastes time both in and out of meetings.

The best bet, however, when dealing with meetings is to take extra care when planning them.

Step one, if your company uses Outlook to schedule meetings make sure than any time you don’t want there to be a meeting, you have something scheduled already. For example, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm every day, I eat lunch, and to avoid people (especially people in other time zones) from scheduling meetings during my lunch, I have a meeting scheduled every day called “Provision Processing” (Food Eating) and it is attended by a few random people who also wish to eat lunch at the same time I do.

The next step is to never schedule a meeting on a day where everyone is open, specifically the client. Try to find a day where they already have five hours of meetings planned. Your best bet is to look for a day when they look all booked up except for an hour or hour and a half around noon. Since you took my advice on Step One, your lunch is already blocked, but that gap is probably where they plan to have lunch. Schedule it then. If it does happen to fall into their lunch, the meeting is likely to run quick since they want to get out of there. Basically, anything you can do to make the client initiate shortening the meeting is great.

If all else fails, call in sick. Sore throat, take my wife/kid/father/dog to the doctor. Specificity is not your friend, stay generic when possible but if you have to give details, make and keep a list so you can remember what fictitious ailments you have assigned to your family members. Never ever make it serious though. If you ever fib your way into Get Well cards, you’ve gone too far.

Of course, none of this applies if you actually have stuff to show the client. The honest truth is always the best policy when its good news. All this other stuff is just to avoid having to explain to the client that they are honestly clueless. You might also get extremely lucky and have a client who understands and some weeks is willing to simply accept “Work is progressing and is on track, but there is nothing to show you this week.” In which case, ignore everything I said.

Except the thing about scheduling a meeting for your lunch.

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