35 resources for better dev and test team meetings

Software development and testing require a lot of focus. So, as you'd expect, meetings are not a software engineer's favorite activity—but they are necessary for almost every team.

The question for software teams becomes how to run meetings that are helpful and aren't focus-killers. Here is my collection of resources on effective meetings, be they one-on-one meetings, story-focused standups, remote meetings, as well as engineering-specific meeting practices.

World Quality Report 2017-18

Run meetings that are worth having

On better meetings

This is a good starting point for the basics of running a meeting. Lara Hogan compares facilitating versus leading a meeting and explains preparation steps, support for remote participants, and good meeting hygiene. As the former engineering director at Etsy, she's had a ton of experience running effective meetings with software engineers.

Well met: The software engineering meetings you actually need

Which meetings are worth scheduling, and how often? Consider regular retrospectives, sprint planning meetings, daily standups, periodic one-on-ones with your manager, inbox scrubs, priorities meetings, and brainstorming/design discussions as needed.

Improve one-on-ones with candor and walking

A simple trick for less awkward, more effective one-on-one meetings

One-on-one meetings are "super-duper valuable,” according to this article's author, but poorly run one-on-ones engender awkwardness and avoidance. To make them less awkward, engage in walking one-on-ones.

The art of the awkward 1:1

In contrast to the previous article, Mark Rabkin, engineering and product vice president at Facebook, believes that one-on-ones aren't awkward enough. Embrace the awkward to open up the discussion of feelings, meta-conversations, and giving and receiving honest feedback.

How to run effective one-on-one meetings

If you struggle to keep the conversation flowing in your one-on-ones, consult the list of questions in this article, broken up into seven sections, from "work habits" to "manager improvement."

How to have effective 1:1s

The radical candor approach to one-on-ones requires the manager to only take feedback from direct reports, without giving any feedback (there are other times for that). Let the employee own the agenda, and consider keeping it in a shared document.

Consider shifting to story-focused standups

User story centric stand ups

If your standups are reminiscent of "What I did last summer" essays from your grade-school days—focusing on what each person did yesterday and what they're about to do today—then they're in need of a revamp. Switching to a story-focused format can help.

Should the daily standup be person-by-person or story-by-story?

Agile guru Mike Cohn advises readers to randomly assign person-by-person or story-by-story formats to different agile teams within your organization. Try it out and see what works best for the teams. He also advocates holding the standup (of either kind) in front of a physical task board to "point to what you're working on."

It's not just standing up: Patterns for daily standup meetings

Martin Fowler, an Agile Manifesto signatory, suggests story-focused standups ((in which the "Work Items Attend," and the people attend only to speak on behalf of the work items) as a possible solution to the problem of people focusing too much on the runners, not the baton. His comprehensive paper on standups covers other patterns, too. It's a very good read to have over a few cups of coffee.

User story focused daily standups

The team in this story switched from person-based to story-focused standups, describing their reasons and resulting success markers—including better sprint burndown.

Story based daily stand-up meeting

Another team did the same switch and felt that "it gives every team member a much better feeling about our commitment."

If standups bring no value, drop them

Is your stand-up worth the time?

Do you feel that standups are not a good use of your time? You are not alone. This post lays out reasons to drop standups altogether.

Status meetings are the scourge

In full agreement, the Signal v. Noise blog writes off "status meetings" (a.k.a. standups) as noise and calls out their expensive nature and inopportune timing. At Basecamp, engineers prefer to share written status reports.

Daily stand-up meetings are a good tool for a bad manager

This post insists that daily standups are "pure evil" and never to be used by good managers. It claims that standups demotivate your best workers, which is an idea worth reflecting on.

Lighten up on recurring meetings

Crushing morale, killing productivity—why do offices put up with meetings?

The Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins suggests—perhaps only partly in jest—that we should stop going to meetings altogether: "It shortens life. You will die."

Our startup got rid of email, meetings, and managers—and thrived

This example comes from a startup that implemented a radical email-free, meetings-free, manager-free culture. It replaced meetings with asynchronous, text-based communication via team chat, arguing that programmers need uninterrupted mornings and afternoons to focus on producing code.

What I hear when you tell me your company doesn’t do meetings

So why have meetings at all? Wouldn't everyone save gobs of time in a meetings-free culture? The answer has to do with context sharing, narrative, and alignment. Those are crucial to getting people working together, and if meetings at your company aren't achieving that, you might be doing them wrong.

It’s time for recurring meetings to end

Recurring meetings can be viewed as a crutch and an impediment to the team workflow. If you agree with this article from Basecamp, you'll remove all the recurring meetings from the calendar (standups included) and instead call meetings on an as-needed basis.

Make your meetings more efficient with structure

The 4 P’s: Saving 25% of meeting time

Learn about the 4 P's model of running meetings: Person, Purpose, Process, Product. It promises a 25% efficiency gain in meetings.

The crisp meeting

"The crisp meeting" approach adds a few more questions to cover all the who/what/when aspects of a meeting. This model is a good fit for project kickoff meetings.

The seven imperatives to keeping meetings on track

To keep a meeting on track, control these seven things: the meeting's purpose, size, tone, ramblers, tangents, transition, and ending. The Harvard Business Review article walks through two case studies, one on letting everyone be heard, and another on managing disrupters.

7 productive meeting hacks for tech startup teams

Avoid fluff in meetings by setting up and sticking to an agenda. Aim for short meetings of 30 minutes or less. For presentations, keep in mind that focused listening tops out at 18 minutes. One surprising piece of advice from this article is to start meetings at bizarre times such as 8:48 am to eliminate tardiness.

How to run efficient meetings

This article explains why you should keep meetings as short as possible. At Google, Marissa Mayer had an interesting idea to hold micro-meetings lasting only 5 to 10 minutes. Keep it simple and stay on course (writing things down helps). Leave the meeting aligned, and do not assume that silence equals consent.

How to save a meeting that’s gotten tense

With Harvard Business Review’s four-step process, you can defuse a meeting that has devolved into angry arguments or otherwise gone off the rails.

Meet effectively with technical team members

Some patterns of engineering design meetings

When engineers get together to discuss design, they naturally want to talk about "how to get there," but they often do not have prior agreement on the goals with the stakeholders. The key to success for the design meeting is to be unafraid to pull focus back to "where we are" and "where we are going."

Strengthening products and teams with technical design reviews

The engineering design review meeting is not a standalone phenomenon. It fits into the larger process of technical design review. Understand the preparation steps (which comprise most of the review), and hold an efficient review meeting with the aid of a moderator and a note-taker.

Designers say: How to run an effective design meeting

This article expresses viewpoints on meetings from four UX design managers. Recognizing that designers hate meetings, they ensure that their meetings are necessary before booking them, they often use a workshop format, and they emphasize whiteboarding.

3 tips to run effective design meetings

The author is a UX designer who distinguishes between three subtypes of design meetings: definition/requirements-setting, design feedback, and discussions during the development process. The three subtypes call for different participants and templates. In all cases, it helps to call out which designs are getting addressed, which decisions will be made, and what next steps to expect. Designers love structure!

Conducting fffective team technical reviews

Another type of a technical review meeting can be called by the technical writers for the product. This article is written from their perspective, yet most of its points apply to any technical review.

Accommodate remote participants

Remote team meetings: An introduction

If your team is remote or distributed, be judicious about scheduling meetings—and prefer asynchronous communication when possible. Prepare for meetings in writing and share an agenda. Use video calls and recordings. Depending on the size of the team, different meeting schedules may apply (see examples for 10-person and 150-person organizations).

On being a remote ... manager

It's tricky to keep your meetings remote-friendly. One radical approach is known as the "one remote-all remotes" rule, which means if you have even a single remote participant, all local attendees also get to dial in using their laptops, to even out the playing field. Use the best technology you can for video conferencing, optimize the camera and microphone setup, and get good at mute/unmute.

6 rules to live by when you work in an office but have remote team members

Trello is among the companies that started out in a single office, then went mostly remote. Heed its advice and follow the rule "If one person is on a video call, everyone is on a video call." Recognize that meetings will take place when someone is sleeping, and source feedback from others well before the meeting time. Discourage impromptu meetings at people’s desks, and plan for socializing via chat and video.

How to run a remote team meeting

Zapier’s distributed team has weekly online meetings in this format: Updates are written down beforehand. Spend the first 10 minutes silently reading each other’s updates. Allocate up to 5 minutes per person so everyone can ask questions of their teammates. Impose an order of speakers (by birthday month!), and use the right equipment.

Daily meetings with remote teams (stand-ups don’t work, but daily cafes do)

This fully remote team organizes a “daily cafe” meeting at a preset time that works across time zones, with dedicated time for social chit-chat and a fluid agenda.

How our remote team stays aligned with ‘town hall’ meetings

A remote-first company organizes virtual quarterly all-hands and town hall meetings to keep everyone aligned. Useful tip: Nominate someone to monitor the chat channel during the meeting for questions from remote participants.

More meeting research

The folks over at the Harvard Business Review have over a century's worth of management science behind their advice. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, you should consider getting an HBR subscription so you can check out the magazine's entire meetings topic.

If you have other favorite resources on running better tech meetings, please mention them below in the comments section.

World Quality Report 2017-18
Topics: Quality