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Successful Meetings

Advice for holding successful design team meetings.

What are meetings (for)?

A meeting is a gathering of the entire design team that ensures everyone's work and thinking processes are well-synchronized.

Team projects require both highly collaborative work and highly individual work. The worst thing that can happen is to let the individual work unravel the overall goals of the team. Meetings are necessary because they let the individual team members stay connected to each other, keep their work in sync, and ensure common goals are met by everyone. Meetings keep everyone from “wandering off.”

Meetings keep a team coordinated, and leverage the overall synergy and wisdom of the team. However, meetings that are held too often or are poorly executed become only a dead weight that consumes valuable time and effort of all team members.

There are two kinds of meetings.

Regular Meetings

These are regularly scheduled, every week, and are intended to

  • update the team on each member's recent progress,
  • seek input and advice on questions and problems arising from recent work,
  • adjust scheduling to ensure all short- and long-term goals will be met, and
  • plan and assign tasks for the following week.

Regular meetings should be short and always focussed on the task at hand. If you want to socialize, set aside time after the meeting to do that. Business before pleasure. Regular meetings may be as short as 15 minutes and should never go over 30 minutes, unless a serious problem is uncovered during the meeting.

Special Meetings

These are meetings called with short notice to treat unforeseen and significant problems. While it would be best if such meetings are never needed, they will be needed, sooner or later. Special meetings shouldn't last more than 90 minutes. If they do, you should consult your instructor about the problem you're having. There's nothing wrong with asking for help; there's a lot wrong with just spinning your wheels and wasting time and effort.

Special meetings must address only the problem for which they were called, and they are over as soon as a decision on how to address the problem has been accepted by all team members.

For instance, say one team member realizes that a particular part is not available in the required size. This could be a “showstopper” for the whole project. That team member needs to get in touch with the entire team immediately and schedule a Special meeting to address that problem.

How to have meetings

Planning a meeting

Weekly meetings should be established during the kickoff meeting. Find a day and time when everyone can normally attend. Hold the weekly meeting even if everything is running well. It may be that the meeting runs only five minutes; that's fine.

You are advised to not have your weekly meetings at the end of the day. You will be too tired and in too much of a rush to get to the TTC/GO to focus well on the meeting.

Choose a location for your meetings where you can focus and concentrate on the matter at hand without distraction or interruption. Make sure everyone on the team knows where that location is.

Use Ryerson's Google Apps to track progress of your project, build your final report and presentation, etc. Google Apps allow multiple users to edit a document or spreadsheet simultaneously, eliminating the need to share copies of documents and accumulate many different versions; this feature also lets you collaborate from different locations, so you don't always have to meet with your team to get work done.

Read more about Kanban Boards, which are very popular tools for tracking tasks. We have prepared a Google Sheets template so that you don't have to depend on off-campus software for this.

Preparing for a meeting

Make sure you bring your design journal to the meeting.

Regular meetings

Some time (up to one day) before a regular meeting, check your notes. Make sure you know what you did, and how you can describe it efficiently so as to not waste time. Also, make sure you keep track of any problems you encountered - or ideas you had - so that you remember to share them with the rest of the team.

There's no particular need to devise or circulate an agenda for each meeting. As will be evident below, the general workflow of a regular meeting obviates the need for an agenda.

Special meetings

Special meetings occur to deal with single, specific problems. If you are the one having the problem, make sure you can explain it carefully, precisely, and completely. Bring all your supporting documentation. You may not know how to solve the problem, but you are the expert on the problem itself. Your team will look to you to be able to explain the nuance and detail of the problem so that they can all understand it deeply and help you solve it.

If possible, communicate (e.g., via email) as much information as possible to your team one day before the meeting. This will shorten the amount of time you need to explain the problem and increase the amount of time the team can spend trying to help you solve it.

If you are not the team member having a problem, make sure you check for documentation that your teammates have sent you about the problem. It is each person's responsibility to read and understand as much of the documentation as you can. This will keep the meeting on track and as brief as possible.

Documenting meetings

Usually, meetings are documented by taking minutes. This means that one person needs to volunteer to take those minutes. However, this also means that that person will be less likely to contribute substantively to the meeting itself because they'll be too busy taking minutes.

Different teams work best in different ways. It is impossible to predict which teams will work in particular ways, so it is up to each team to decide how they work best. There are two ways to do this.

One way, as indicated above, is to dedicate one person to taking minutes. Each week, a different person should be in charge of taking minutes. Those minutes need to be communicated to the rest of the team within 24 hours of the meeting itself. Obviously, it would be best to take minutes online (via Google Docs for instance) so that you can easily and quickly share minutes with the rest of your team.

The other way requires each person to take notes on things that matter to them individually only. In this way, one could theoretically take each person's notes and combine them into minutes later. (This is not necessary in practice.) This way distributes the load of taking notes over the entire team, so everyone is more likely to contribute substantively to the meeting. However, it can make it harder to ensure that everyone on the team knows what the overall state of the work is.

Your own notes should always go into your design journal (which will be graded at the end of the semester), but you can add key points and achievements to an online document to share with your team.

It doesn't matter which way you use, so long as you and the rest of your team agree that that way is best for the team. If you have any concerns about this, contact your instructor immediately to ask for help.

Running a meeting

Regular meetings

Here is one fairly typical way of running a weekly design meeting.

  • Each team member reports briefly on what they did since the last meeting, referring back to the previous week's list of assigned tasks. Clearly identify which tasks have been completed, which are still on-going, and which are blocked because of problems discovered since the last meeting. Make sure that problems are listed somewhere for future reference.
  • After all team members have updated the rest of the team on their recent work, go back to the list of problems and determine how each problem will be solved. If dealing with a problem requires more than a few minutes to fix, set it aside, to be dealt with during a special meeting to be scheduled before the regular meeting ends.
  • List goals and tasks for the coming week. Determine who will work on each task. Break tasks down as finely as possible. For instance, Perform concept design is far too broad. Pull up the design roadmap and create a list of specific subtasks that make sense to everyone on the team based on the notes in the roadmap. Remember to account for the different work schedules of your teammates; do not expect every team member to always be able to put in the same amount of work every week. Accommodate the schedules of others as much as possible.
  • Before finishing the meeting, make sure each team member knows what they are responsible for until the next meeting. Make sure everyone knows when and where the next meeting will be held.

Special meetings

A typical special meeting is called for exactly one, very specific purpose. A typical way of running a special meeting is given below.

  • Begin by making sure everyone knows why the meeting has been called and what specifically the problem is that has required the meeting.
  • Have an open discussion session to “talk out” the details of the problem. Make sure you take good notes. Stay focused only on the problem for which the meeting has been called. If other problems come to light as a result of this discussion, make a list of them - each one will need their own special meeting.
  • Create a list of all possible solutions to the problem. Discuss each one. Create a ranked list of solutions from best to worst, and make sure that list - and the rationale for the rankings - is permanently recorded.
  • Document that the best solution will be followed by the entire team.

After a meeting

Before the day is out, and preferably immediately after the meeting (while it's still fresh in your mind), take five minutes to review the meeting. Enhance your notes as appropriate in your design journal, adding reflections and ideas as they come to you.

If you come up with any significant problems as a result of this reflection, contact the rest of your team immediately to raise the concern. The sooner everyone is made aware of the problem, the sooner it can be fixed.

Keep separate attendance

Normally, the minutes of a meeting contain a list of all those in attendance. However, given the nature of academic team project work, it can be hard to use this information to recognize and document if certain team members are often absent.

Therefore, you are advised to keep a separate document - or a separate page in your design journal where you record the date, time, location, and attendance at a meeting. The actual minutes can be kept elsewhere.

If you notice someone on your team inexplicably misses more than two meetings, advise your instructor at once.

It's everyone's responsibility

A meeting is only as successful as the contribution of its weakest participant. Every member of the team is equally responsible for making a meeting successful. Make sure you contribute to the best of your ability, because you are all in it together.

It doesn't matter what role you may have in a particular meeting, if you see something going wrong - if the meeting looks like its wandering off - then you need to step up and try to get things back on track.

However

Don't brainstorm during meetings

Meetings are not for brainstorming ideas. Don't try to solve design problems during a meeting. Do that during a separate session, scheduled as its own event.

Meetings are for so-called convergent thinking - which is when you bring things together and make sure everyone is acting in a coordinated way. That's not brainstorming.

Meetings are not collaborative work sessions

It may well be that your team finds it beneficial to set aside time where you all gather in one place and just work on the project. If that's the case, then more power to you. But this is not a meeting. A collaborative work session can last hours, and involves working intensely on the actual tasks of your project. A meeting is meant for project management purposes only. A meeting that lasts hours will be a life-sucking, soul-destroying affair that will ruin your desire to work on the project at all.

See Also

Kickoff meeting

  • Minutes.io is a free web app for creating pre-formatted meeting minutes. Not required, but some teams may find it useful.
design/successful_meetings.txt · Last modified: 2021.05.03 16:44 by Fil Salustri