⚠️ This article is extreme & satirical on the purpose of being thought-provoking. Therefore, please, do take it with some grain of salt.

This is a followup of my Remote-mostly working is a paradigm shift.

My #1 advice about distributed teams is actually even the case in colocated teams:
Try as hard as possible to avoid meetings, use textual IM instead as meetings are where work goes to die.
I know it sounds pretty dull, but if you really think about it you’ll see that it’s usually wasted time.
The usual pattern of decision taking is:

1. if you don’t have a clue, ask someone else.
2. to ask him, schedule a meeting
3. to schedule a meeting, you have to find a slot
4. that usually postpones the decision

Postponing the decision is usually what one really wants, even unknowingly: “to be able to have an excuse not to decide at once”.

It’s a very very fair humane reaction, I also fell myself into that trap.

Thrown out of the fence for proposing an textual chat

I end up having the following workflow:

  • Avoid email loops. Those have too much overhead, and will divide your audience pretty quickly.
  • Create a slack channel instead of the email loop. This will retain the whole conversation in 1 central place.
  • Systematically push back on any meetings. Accept them only if you have a clear statement of who will drive it.
  • Meetings should be a broadcast mode. All the Q&A should go back to the slack channel.

    • Having everything searchable makes it super easy for
      • newcomers that can simply scroll back
      • old timers such as me that forget and can also simply scroll back
    • Even recorded meetings are a vast of time if you need to find an information, as it’s not indexed.

    • If not recorded, sending the minutes afterwards are usually a loss of information.
      • It’s still very important to extract “executive summaries” from those meetings, even only textual. As can be posted on a public place for massive & broad sharing.
      • Yet, the real context on those summaries will be kept inside the whole meeting

Context effectively fights Cargo Cult

Usually the why of decisions are not provided in a “build the sausage” manner. But after a while, the hypothesis of the decision are not true anymore, and therefore another decision has to be taken.

This is not possible when loss of information occurs and that’s when Cargo cult begins to creep in.

In a record-everything scenario, context switch is just a matter of reading back some previous messages. Otherwise you’ll spend numerous times “explaining the context” in a meeting to everyone. And then everyone will just move to something else, and you’ll have pitiful engagement, while still spending time on it.

A company that use its time effectively, is a company that moves much faster than its competitors, no matter the skillsets in that company. Even if you have the brightest minds, if you waste their talents in boring activities, you’ll dry them up. And either they’ll leave, or worse, they quit & stay.

💡 This enabled me to scale to a reasonable multitasking ability while curbing its overhead to a manageable level

That’s why “startups” are so effective : they are small and therefore very fast. Being fast brings capacity to try & fail, and therefore agility.

💡 time is the only really scarse resource in a company : you can’t buy it back, no matter the price.

Why you should only have fun ones

That said, I do agree that travelling is necessary. But we should name the real usecase of travelling : having fun together.

The nicest part of that purpose is :

  • you can plan it far in advance
  • you can also budget it in advance
  • you can mentally map yourself in those fun times, and focus on actual work right now.

The most used reason for meetings is “alignments”, but it is very usually wasted as :

  • There’s always someone missing for that meeting
  • No-one really wants to write the minutes out of it
  • If written nonetheless, those minutes are only seldom capturing the why the decision is reached. Which is the most important part!

The “there’s always someone missing from that meeting” is the worst part, as usually, that is the one that says “what you decided cannot be done”. And you’ll end up with yet another round of thinking at best. At worst you’ll try to shoehorn your precious alignment (that did sink a huge travel budget) into the needs of that missing person.

💡 We can draw a parallel to the paradigm shift I mentioned earlier:

  • F2F Meetings are the monolith way.
  • Informal, dedicated & textual meetings are the micro-services way.

Now, one immediately notices the following:

  • People are very much at ease with monoliths. It takes a huge mental leap to go micro-services.
  • Micro-services have an overhead. But no-one will argue that they can scale way better.
  • Monoliths can seldomly be distributed the way micro-services can : you’ll quickly end up with that infamous distributed monolith pattern.

💡 Now, let’s travel only for “team building” purposes.

You can plan them in advance, and you won’t have over-budget ones. As their outcome is predictable, and if there’s someone missing, it won’t jeopardy the whole travelling.

A final word of caution, the reference to scaling is not about runtime performance. It’s more about organisation size. As Martin Fowler said : don’t even consider microservices unless you have a system that’s too complex to manage as a monolith.

So, it usually makes very much sense to start with a small, colocated team, that has traditional meetings. The trick is to recognize the need to change the paradigm when the team grows, as it always done smoothly over the months. Just don’t forget to have good meeting hygiene (written inputs & outputs), as even monoliths should be nicely modular.

I posted those 2 articles (Remote-mostly working, Effective Meetings) internally to my company some years ago, but I’m republishing those publicly to help others the same way it helped us.

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