Monthly Archives: August 2015

Collaborative Pre-Reads for Meetings

Like many engineers, one of my goals is to have as few meetings as possible. Not quite zero meetings because there are good reasons to have meetings but the key is to avoid the useless ones. Useless meetings are ones whose goals are better accomplished with some other mechanism — with the status meeting being the worst offender in the useless category. That weekly meeting where you go around the room, listening to each person talk about what they’ve done, most of which you already know, none of which you care that much about, everybody knows it’s a waste of time and yet they still occur.

In my organization, we don’t do status meetings: we only do decision meetings (and occasionally an alignment meeting). My philosophy is to make the best use of everyone’s time, all the time, and the best use of highly-intelligent humans is analyzing a situation and making a decision. Those are useful meetings.

But in order to make a decision, we need information (status), so I’m not saying that status is inherently bad, only that status meetings are inherently bad. So instead of status meetings, we communicate status with written pre-reads for status-like information, and then we jump off from there in our discussions and decisions. Some companies, such as (famously) Amazon, use this same mechanism but start each meeting with the reading of the pre-reads: I instead simply insist that everyone come prepared by having done the reading. Nobody fails to do the reading more than once.

Being a modern SaaS organization and fully in the cloud, we actually go one step further than simply having pre-reads: we use the collaborative editor Quip to write our pre-reads. This shared collaborative writing mechanism allows us to read and comment on each other’s pre-reads, and then revise and clarify our own contribution based on each other’s comments, all at our own pace and time. All of this is done in advance of the meeting and thus we arrive with a shared understanding of the status of the issues (because we’ve read all the pre-reads), as well as a complete understanding of the issues (because we’ve asked for clarifications via the Quip commenting mechanism), and are ready to dive into the discussion.

And because we come prepared, our meetings are enjoyable, efficient, and productive.