Meetings considered harmful

There is an old saying in software development about how the only bug free line of code is the one you don’t write. While this may sound pessimistic, the motivation is to curb a developer’s urge to over engineer a solution. When it comes to Project Management, do we have a corollary to this wisdom?

I believe we do, and it is this: The unnecessary meeting that is cancelled retains productivity. (Or at least, it has the potential whereas the meeting would have certainly doomed the group to wasting an hour)

Meetings are a necessary evil. This is so because good software requires communication between developers and stake holders, but meetings should ultimately be seen as overhead. If five people are in a meeting for an hour, this represents five person-hours not spent on features or fixing bugs. Scott Berkun, in The Art of Project Management, goes a bit further and warns against recurring meetings, which often outlive their usefulness.

There are several ways for a Project Manager to keep developers out of meetings:

  • Sit down with developers and stake holders separately and confirm if all expectations are met. A five minute discussion with both parties separately may save everyone from a longer project review session.
  • Start eliminating recurring meetings, or convert them to opt-in meetings, decided by the Project Manager
  • Structure the order of events in a meeting so that some persons may leave early. Don’t make developers suffer through a budget discussion if all they need to do their job is clarification on the software requirements.

Before you get too slash-happy, do keep in mind that effective meetings can add value. A Project Manager should enable developers to produce software. If the meeting doesn’t serve this goal, adopt some meeting elimination tips from this article.