Archive for April, 2011

Making the Most of Your Meeting Time

Most people who know me well know that one of my strengths is time management.  I prioritize everything I do against my objectives and value every minute of every day.  So I’m constantly looking for tools to help improve my efficiency in the activities that take up the most of my precious 24 hours.  And if you look at my calendar – meetings are the evil that consume the majority of my time.

If meetings are going to consume that much of my time, it is best that they are efficient not just for my sake, but also for the sake of others participating with me.  Here are a few tips that I have developed over time.

1. Clear purpose – if you cannot define the purpose – the “verb” that should come as a result of your meeting – CANCEL IT.  And let’s be clear – “discuss” is not a verb.  The verb should be actionable.

Here’s an example:

Purpose:  Discuss the options around the configuration of the widget

Better example:

Purpose:  Determine the widget configuration that best meets our needs and constraints.

It is actionable – it tells your stakeholders that they should come to the meeting prepared because a decision will be made.  If you cannot clearly statement an actionable purpose for your meeting, if it  is yet another “status” meeting – then you should look for another way to satisfy your need or look to another meeting to combine purposes with the same stakeholders.

2.  Interaction – I cannot stand meeting wall flowers.  If you are taking up space in the meeting, then you need to participate.  When I host a meeting, I’m looking for everyone to participate.  If someone is there to “just observe”, they need to excuse themselves to go get other work done.  As a meeting host, I’m going to try to elicit information & interaction out of everyone so our meeting is fulfilling to everyone.

3.   Questions  – I do not call meetings just to hear myself speak.  Actually in a lot of my meetings, I hope that I am facilitating active dialogue – not providing it.  If I feel a lull coming over my group, I am going to ask questions – even ones with obvious answers – just to get the group talking.

4.  Preparation – this tip cannot be under-valued.  If I am hosting or participating, I am going to come prepared (okay, I’m not perfect but I’m going to TRY to come prepared).  I usually have a good feel for who is attending the meeting, what I am looking for out of the meeting, and a few pre-thought topics that I want to discuss.  This also helps with tip #3.

5.  Touching Base – I picked this idea up just last week.  I was sitting in a meeting and at the end of the allocated time, the host asked if anyone had any questions.  Good thing they didn’t, because they stood between a hungry group of stakeholders and the door.  I am going to try to start asking that question throughout my meeting instead of the end.  It’s very natural to ask at the end – and should be asked at the end but I am going to encourage questions throughout the meeting going forward.

6.  Meeting Notes – Yes, I dread typing up my 5 pages of notes but I do not provide a word-for-word playback of what occurred in the meeting.  However if you need this – check out my post on the LiveScribe pen.  Depending on the meeting, I provide a select set of information.  At a minimum, I provide Attendees, Topics discussed, Action Items taken.

For a requirements session (in my BA role), I add in Requirements Captured.  I have recently also added Terms Identified (also used in my Requirements Specification) and Test Scenarios Identified (bonus as I don’t always have a QA resource engaged during the Requirements phase of my projects).  My theory with this information is that it should help in facilitating a faster requirements approval step on my projects.  Time will tell…..

7.  Decline – Yes, I decline meetings.  If I do not think that I will add value, I say no.  I also say no if it does not align to my objectives to participate (often I suggest rescheduling if needed) or I delegate if someone on my team is empowered to attend (as a decision maker – not a note taker).

There are only 24 hours in a day and for most professionals, meetings consume a significant amount of this time.  Some of the strongest professionals I have observed have found ways to make the most of their time.

What techniques do you use to make your meetings most effective for you and/or your meeting participants?


April 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm 2 comments

Putting a Bow on It

The BABOK tells us all that we need to know to be a good Business Analyst.  But what makes a person a GREAT BA?  I call it “putting a bow on it”.  Here are some tips that set the good apart from the GREAT!

  1. When you start a new project, setup an introductory meeting with your sponsor & IT Project Manager.  30 minutes to get to know each other, gain insights on objectives, risks or issues, etc.  Starting on a solid foundation, you are more likely to lean on each other when times get tough on the project.
  2. Reach out to others playing a role on the project as they engage or prior to their engagement.  Find out what you can do (as the BA) to help make their lives easier.  QA, Data Analysts, and Trainers LOVE this!
  3. Don’t just start inviting people to meetings.  Let them know the project is starting, what they can do to learn about the effort (assuming a kick-off hasn’t been held), and ask them if they know of any conflicts during your tentative timeframe for eliciting requirements.
  4. Once you have scheduled your interviews, elicitation sessions, JAD sessions, etc – publish a schedule to your IT Project Manager and sponsor so they have a single list of sessions, participants, durations, locations, etc.
  5. Provide your stakeholders a summary of all sessions held once per week with the HIGHS & LOWS.  What were some of the recurring questions/areas that came up consistently?  Where there any significant “ah ha” moments that they might find useful?  Are you on track with your session schedule or might you need to schedule a follow-up or slip a meeting or two?  You might be able to partner with the IT Project Manager to publish this note in conjunction with them.
  6. Send out your deliverables along the way – don’t just assume that everything has to be sent in a final presentation mode.  Let them know that you have a draft set of use cases, a work-in-progress process model, etc.  They might enjoy the chance to review it – or wait until the end – their choice, but at least they have a choice.
  7. Offer 1:1 sessions if stakeholders don’t have time to attend meetings.  Yes, it’s taxing to your schedule but it can go along way with engaging a stakeholder who wants to be included but has other obligations.
  8. Send a note (handwritten is EXTRA wow) to stakeholders who actively participate in meetings or who are super prepared for interview sessions.  If appropriate, drop their boss a note.  People like to know that their effort is appreciated!

None of these things are terribly time-consuming but they can make a big difference in the relationships you form during the project and ultimately the overall success of the effort!

April 13, 2011 at 9:39 pm 1 comment

Getting the Most Out of Me

The efforts that I have worked on that I am the proudest of are the ones that required the hardest work and sacrifice.  It is not necessarily that I am glutton for extra hours and time away from my family, it’s that I enjoy putting in effort and being part of the result.  Whether the end result of the project resulted in great success for my company or was something that might have been an idea ahead of its time, I felt like I was part of it – win or lose.

As I talk to people, I hear them talk without emotion about their current projects.  No excitement.  No ideas popping into their head in the middle of the night.  No thoughts first thing in the morning about needing to talk to a co-worker about a potential solution to a tricky issue.

Peter Drucker said “Leadership is not magnetic personality/that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not making friends and influencing people /that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

So I have been thinking about what the leaders around me did differently that caused me to feel so engaged.  Here is the list that I have come up with so far.

  1. The leaders that I worked with set a vision.  Not just a scope, schedule, and a budget but a VISION. They talked about how this project was going to fit in with other efforts across the company to make a difference for our Shareholders or Customers.  They talked about why this change was needed to make us a better company – a more competitive company.  He got us geared up for the fight – the long nights, the difficult problems but told us about what lay ahead for us if we were successful.
  2. Some leaders that I saw as successful stayed in engaged throughout the effort.  Engaged did not mean that they attended every meeting.  They were in the right meetings and asked hard questions.  They did not just sit there and nod their heads or check their Blackberry. They challenged us.  But they were also available. If something came up that warranted their engagement, they found a time (usually early or late) to meet with us.  They offered ideas but they expected us to come to the table with our own.
  3. Leaders that led some of my most memorable projects let me do my job. They did not assume that they could do the job better – they may or may not have had experience in what I do.  They challenged me based on their experience but also supported my direction as long as it was well thought-out.  They would let me lead my meetings.  They would let me interact with my suppliers.  They engaged when I asked for help – not on a whim.
  4. They held me accountable. I was expected to build a plan, report on the plan, and mitigate issues that arose.  When I struggled, they (in front of my peers), asked me to talk through the issues, and (in private) coached me on where I could have tried something different.  They had high expectations of me – which made me feel more needed and more driven to succeed.  After all, they were counting on me.

So what about the times that I have not felt as engaged?  When I knew what I was supposed to do but not quite sure of how it was going to help anyone? No objectives or vision were shared.  No one had answers to my questions – nor time to answer them.  No engagement except to “say” that they had read my status email and that they would not be in my status meeting.  No help in removing roadblocks that fell in my way – except to say they supported me all the way.

As a leader, it is my job to hold myself and my peers to the highest standard.  I am writing this not just so that others can learn from the experiences that I had with some amazing leaders but so that I can reflect on how I am doing as a leader.  I also hope that if I demonstrate some of these characteristics, others will pick up on it and want to do the same.

How have you been inspired to engage more actively at work?  Share your experiences so we can all learn.  What are some ways that you have interacted with others at work that have un-inspired you?  Those are valuable lessons as well!


April 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm 5 comments

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