Working in information technology for many years I have been part of more meetings than I would like to count. Some very effective and many others that were not. Technical meetings are very similar to regular business meetings with a slight difference. Technology people think most decisions are technical decisions, but we will learn more about that in a few seconds. Overall we need to bring these factors to the table and weigh them out.
For a meeting to happen you have to get on the schedule early enough. Give yourself enough time to get all the right people together. One thing that is best to do is not invite too many people to a meeting either. Meetings with too many people or the wrong people get off track and don’t find solutions.
As you identify the reason for the technical meeting think about who needs to be involved. Do you have the people with the proper knowledge to make technical decisions and explain their reasoning? The talent of explaining technical ideas to non-technical people is an important skill. The business people will have the final decision but it is important to have them properly informed. Too many times I have been in meetings where the explanation only confused the business decision makers. Learn from my mistakes and get the right people involved.
Build the right Agenda
I remember the first time I was in charge of setting up a meeting. I thought all I had to do was to book the room. Boy was that a disaster of a meeting. We had many rambling conversations and no real action items at the end. Try to begin building out the agenda before you send the meeting invitation. If you are unsure what should be on the agenda ask a few people. It will probably change but, you want to start somewhere. Build in time for questions too, you have to build consensus and it takes time to get clarity.
Start with Leadership
This point has two parts, first off it is important to invite the right leaders to the meeting. Make sure you have the right people involved from the start. The second part is that you are meeting leadership so start off by talking about the reason for the meeting and review the agenda items so everyone is understanding why they are there. You can assume everyone knows why but this can help alleviate meeting hijacking that can happen.
Balance Technical Merits and Business demands
As a technical person, myself I have been guilty of thinking the technology is the most important part of the meeting. The business of the organization should always take precedent. I needed to understand why they pay me is to make money for the organization not to write elegant software. Even as a Scrum Master I learned how we must always be providing business value.
Conclude with Action
“Was I supposed to do that?” was a popular refrain we had at one company I worked at. We had many meetings that consisted of talk until it was time to go to the next meeting. Once we were complete no one knew what we were supposed to work on as no decision was made. Take time at the end of each meeting and review action items and who will do them. Keep it simple and clear so nothing falls through the cracks. With each action item set a deadline.
Either take notes yourself or have someone help you with this. Especially not all the action items that we discussed on the previous point. Email the meeting summary and the action items with deadlines to each person involved in the meeting. People get distracted in the digital age so we need a few (okay a lot of) reminders.
Many years ago our then President Ronald Reagan was negotiating with his Soviet counterparts on Nuclear missile reductions. He stated how would “trust but verify.” It is not micromanaging people to ask them if they got their action items completed. It is important to include deadlines and hold people accountable. I have trusted people too much at times and it has cost me.
Additional Technical decisions or resources
The last thing we will cover is do we need make additional technical decisions? If we do we need to start at the beginning and plan for the next meeting. Also do we need more resources to complete the decision we have come to? If we do get the approval is sometimes lengthy. Make sure you know how to plead your case and have all the facts straight. Don’t try the “just because” argument, it won’t work for you either.