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.

The Cultivate Conference

I am pleased to have convinced O’Reilly to bring back the cultivate_logo_150x57Cultivate conference as place for engineering leaders to discuss and collaborate on how to be better engineering leaders. As I said in my introductory comments: “I believe great engineers deserve great managers” and that “management is a career you choose, not something you’re promoted into”. We all want to do great things and we can only do that when we are supported and a big aspect of that support is your manager and the company culture.

The lineup was outstanding including Liza Daly, CTO of Safari, and Molly Graham, COO of Quip, as well as, at my insistence, plenty of time for the attendees to talk and learn from each other. (I’m big on learning from one’s peers: my annual internal-to-New-Relic engineering conference is all about making the social connections to be maximally efficient throughout the year.)

There are hundreds of conferences every year where developers can learn to be better developers or architects can learn to be better architects, but almost none where managers can learn to be better managers and create a better company culture: hence the need for Cultivate.

I look forward to more.