Too many meetings (or why it’s time to optimize your scrum ceremonies)

No one does this in meetings…

Typical Scrum Meetings

Let’s first start digging in by looking at specific scrum rituals (also known as ceremonies). Some of you may say, “these aren’t supposed to be meetings”, but the reality is that these turn into meetings. Some are critical, others…not so much.

Sprint Planning Meeting

First up on the list is a planning meeting, which happens on the first day of the sprint. This meeting is focused on what will be built during the sprint, while the second aspect is how the team will build the thing.

Daily Standup

Next is the daily standup, which is supposed to last 15 minutes and happens on a daily basis. For those unaware, a daily standup is focused on each person answering the following questions:

  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What am I doing today?
  • Where am I stuck (what blockers exist?)

Sprint Review

Next, we have the sprint review, which is focused around what the team accomplished throughout the sprint, including clicking the things and demoing the features to stakeholders.

Sprint Retrospective

Finally, we have the sprint retrospective. This process is focused on examining how the work was completed. Traditionally, these meetings are focused on answering the following questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What could be improved?
  • What will we commit to doing in the next sprint?

More Meetings: When things REALLY start to break

Here’s where things really start to break down. It’s a common occurrence for scrum teams to have other meetings (could be regularly scheduled or ad-hoc) that they need to attend as well. Examples provided below:

1–1 meetings

1–1 meetings are typically 30-minute conversations between a team member and the manager that happen once every week (or bi-weekly). Unlike team meetings, 1–1s are much more private and it ends up being a very different conversation as a result. These frequently feel like coaching sessions.

Another stock photo, but one that’s a 1–1 meeting.

Ad-hoc meetings

This next section is tough to estimate and depends on the nature of the work being completed, the team/company dynamics, and other factors.

Company-wide meetings

Finally, there are company-wide meetings, which could occur frequently (weekly) for smaller organizations, or monthly for larger ones.

Congratulations, you have accidentally created meeting culture.

If your team of six matches the cadence outlined above, you will spend $10,640/monthly on scrum & other meetings, excluding context-switching costs (with the exception of the daily standup). This could easily be $20k/mo in time cost.

Reducing your meeting burden

There are a few variables that can reduce the burden of meetings for your team (outlined below):

  • Eliminate the meeting completely
  • Reduce the time spent in meetings
  • Reduce the number of people in the meeting
  • Hold the meeting asynchronously

Hold daily standups asynchronously

Daily standups are one of the most costly meetings, even though they are the quickest. The information relayed is incredibly valuable, but I’d argue that this can happen asynchronously over Slack. There’s plenty of apps you can use to make this process easy too. If you need to have an in-person meeting to discuss a blocker, that can happen between the relevant parties, not the entire team.

Reduce the time spent in 1–1 meetings

The headline of this section may scare you, but the first ten minutes of every 1–1 I’ve ever had revolves around asking the question, “what’s going on?” This is typically an attempt by the manager to get an understanding of the agenda for the discussion but tends to waste a bit of time.

Reduce the time spent in sprint retrospectives

Sprint retros are a helpful exercise, but one thing that drives me nuts about this process is how a team spends 10–15 minutes writing things down. This data gathering process doesn’t need to happen in a meeting. You can collect this feedback over the interwebs.

Wrapping up

I’m sure you can think of additional ways to reduce the burden of meetings. A few final thoughts:

  • Estimate the time cost of each meeting you have, is it worth it?
  • Identify ways to reduce the length of the meeting
  • If a meeting is about relaying information, can this be done asynchronously?

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Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas

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Founder @ Friday (www.friday.app). Mainer. Building an operating system for working from anywhere.