This post is the eighth part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series are:
I’m a big fan of 15-minute meetings. It’s an engineering thing. It’s all about…
I have discovered something about myself: I suck at multi-tasking.
It’s true I do a lot of things, but the way they get done is not pretty. Note: This is not a complaint, it is part confession and part recognition-of-reality. The recognition of reality is I have two hands and one mind. I can only dedicate them to a single task at a time. The confession is: I like it this way.
I’m a notorious monotasker. It’s genetic (or, at least, epigenetic). I remember when I discovered this in third grade. We were given a page of arithmetic in math class. I started solving the problems and everything else “went away.” Have you seen the movie For the Love of the Game? Costner’s character focuses while on the pitcher’s mound, saying “Clear the mechanism” and the crowd noise fades to nothing. That happened to me at age 8 in that classroom in Burkeville VA.
It’s happened since when I’m coding or doing engineering work. I remember designing electrical control systems in 1990’s when I ran a small industrial automation shop. I’d get to the office around 5:00 AM, make a pot of coffee and start working. In an hour or so, I’d get hungry and eat something. Then I’d make another pot of coffee and work for another hour. And then I’d look up and it would be dark outside. I would think “But I’ve only been at work a couple hours!” In fact, I’d put in 12 – 14 hours.
Since I can only do one thing at a time (and since I really enjoy doing only one thing at a time), I need a solution to get more than one thing done in a given time period. My solution? Time-slicing. Computers do this.
Back when we used to carve our own ICs out of wood, computers had but one CPU. Can you believe that? A single CPU. It’s true kids, I’m telling you – look it up on the interweb if you don’t believe me. Back then, computers would do one thing for a while, and then go do something else for a while.
Humans who are bad at multitasking can mimic this behavior, which brings me to…
The Beauty of the 15-Minute Meeting
If we have only 15-minutes to talk about something, we’re not going to waste a lot of time. The very length of the meeting creates a sense of urgency.
Plus – and I love this – 15-minute meetings break my day into 40 intervals (for a 10-hour day). If I go with 1-hour meetings, I only have 10 intervals. I can work on 4 times as much stuff if I slice my day into 15-minute intervals.
I find 1-hour meetings have 5 times as many people invited to them than 15-minute meetings. That’s one of the reasons the meeting is an hour long – to give everyone a chance to talk. And here’s the interesting part: most of any meeting consists of two people communicating while the others listen. For those of us who practice “math” that means a lot more people are listening, zoning out, or ignoring the meeting and doing meaningful, productive work instead in a 1-hour meeting.
15-minute meetings should never have more than ten people. And really, three or four is optimal. Identify the people who can best make the decision, get them together in a 15-minute meeting, and make the call.
“What About the Other People Who Need to Know About the Decision?”
Send them an email.
Want to increase the signal-to-noise ratio in your day? 15-minute meetings are a more effective use of everyone’s time.