Thursday, May 19, 2011

do you hate meetings? try iphone relay: there's an app for that!

Do you hate meetings?

Yeah, who doesn't right? They drag on, cease being relevant and gobble up huge amounts of time, effort and resources.

It is true these pesky meeting things really eat into our day. So we had a random idea here in research computing. We have a bi-weekly all hands style meeting to get and give updates to the team. We are a pretty diverse bunch. Ranging from bioinformatics specialists to systems engineering, hpc analysts and folks running large scale museum collections informatics, amongst others in software engineering and scientific application development. As much as we all love to talk about what we have done, there are times when things really do drag on a little (my good self being one of the main offenders!).

So we decided to try out our random idea. It works like this:

1.  Start the meeting on time!

2.  Set up an iphone clock timer for two minutes

3.  Each person holds on to the iphone 
    - then discusses their topic and gives their update

4.  When the timer runs out, or if complete: 
    - pass the iphone to the next person round the table

5.  That individual then resets the clock does their two minutes

6.  Repeat until all folks get their turn


And it worked amazingly well! As it was our first attempt at this crackpot scheme we also slightly evolved the "model" as we went round to include:

1. Two more mins at the end for group questions

that also worked really well. While doing that we had another idea:

2. A quick fire thirty second bonus round!

The bonus round was allocated to an individual by the team leader (in this case yours truly) who had a group wide update that would be of interest. So this week the bonus round (by Jeff on our team) resulted in us all learning about a "new" (well new to us at least) version of rsync that significantly speeded up one of our operations!. Since the meeting in our jabber chat, Matt then went on to find another rsync speed up, this time from way back in 2004!. Sometimes it is not all about the new and sexy latest and greatest widgets!

We also noticed a couple of interesting features from this first dry run:
1.  We finished on time - 14 folks got us done in 30 mins!

2.  Folks who chat too much don't fill all available air time

3.  Folks "holding the phone" will chastise group members for 
    talking over them

4.  Folks who normally don't say much actually had room to talk, 
    two mins for them is a long time

5.  Folks would use some of their own time to congratulate another 
    team member for helping them, or remind them that they did 
    something cool they forgot to mention in their slot

6.  Some folks had extremely elegant and stylish updates as the time
    factor helped them be inordinately succinct

7.  It was actually a lot of fun to do the whole "pass the baton" relay
    there was a reasonable amount of chortling as we went around

So in summary, it may not work for your org, but for us and our absolute hate of all things "meeting" - it seemed to work well. We are planning on using it for other all hands meetings. One drawback is for folks that do a *lot* of work two mins is short for updates, but it turns out that point five above often comes into play, so it all works out. One other issue is for skype meetings, we are going to need a virtual iphone ;-)

Anyway, no doubt this is some terribly well documented and tedious "instrument of management" that I'm sure folks will point out. However we did it w/o reading any of those rather sordid "self help management" books.

So certainly not claiming we are unique with this idea, but it was whole lot of fun nevertheless!





[any opinions here are all mine, and have absolutely nothing to do with my employer]
(c) 2011 James Cuff