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It’s not a meeting I

Watch Alex Cowan discuss how to communicate ideas with your team without the format of a meeting.
You’re the product manager for a successful existing product, probably you’re network of collaborators is growing, there are more people that you’re working with. And a big part part of your job is to create that happy interdisciplinary intersection that’s a great product, and a profitable product, and a dorable product. How do you do that? Well, for most of us, meetings are too long and too many. If an employee in the USA, their fully loaded cost is $100,000 a year, then that is $56 an hour, if we get six people together for an hour, that costs the company $336. And yet, and many people will schedule several of these a week, and maybe they spend a couple grand in meetings every week.
And yet, they probably don’t have the spending authority to buy a $100 bucks under other circumstances, but meetings are these weird kind of paradox of modern work life. And so, here we’re going to talk a little bit about how as a product manager, you can create better interactions among these people, spend less time and create more valuable outcomes for everybody. In the spirit of the way we’ve been working, I’m going to organize these around a few problems to be solved, okay? And there are six of them, we’ll step through each of them here.
Sharing project visibility, how do we do that? Well, if you have been around Agile at all, you are probably familiar with these three questions, which are answered at the daily stand-up. The daily stand-up gets like kind of made fun of, because it’s one of these things in Agile that if a company does it, they say we have achieved Agile, which is of course kind of silly thing to say or think. But it is useful, I mean it’s there for a reason. And the deal is, if you don’t know, you have a small Agile team, a dedicated team of somewhere in the order of 5 to 10 people, let’s say, they are the ones that answer these questions.
If they need to discuss anything specific, they take that offline after the meeting, other people in some dispositions of Agile, are allowed to attend this meeting, but they’re not allowed to butt in and start asking questions and stuff. And so, this is a pretty effective way to share visibility. If each person takes just a few minutes to answer these questions, and you’re a 5 to 10 person team, it’s not going to be a long meeting. And why do they call it the daily stand-up, because people stand. The goal is not to sit around and chat, it’s to share this visibility, and then get out and start doing some actual work.
Another great thing, if you’re in the unfortunate circumstance of not having a dedicated team, that you’re working with on your product, a great thing to do is to create a project room. So even if everybody is unfortunately working on a couple different things, maybe you can get everybody to agree that from 2PM to 5PM, that’s when we work on our project together. And you can create a project room, you can put your story map, if you remember, up there with your your storyboard squares. Maybe you have a Kanban board where you are moving your stories across from idea to completion. And these are, in Agile, things that we call information radiators.
And so, the project room can be a great place to kind of organically or sort of share project visibilty by osmosis. We talked about the story map, it’s just such a great tool to help you on this job of deciding what to build and how to build it. Stories are not a specification, they are an input into the development process to drive better discussions about what to build and how to build it. And that’s really important, because people understand a lot less of what we tell them, or what we write for them, than we think. There’s this great study that I first saw in the book, Made to Stick, by the Heath brothers, where one party taps out a song.
That wasn’t very good, but say I tapped out a song you would understand, like Happy Birthday, or Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and the job of the counter party that they’re tapping to, is to see if they recognize the song. And the amazing result of this study, I think it was done at UCSD, was that 74% if I remember right, of the tappers thought that, yes, my counterparty understood what the song was, but only like 7% of them actually did. So you think about that, what if you write all these stories and stuff, and the developers are only understanding a tenth of what you think they’re understanding. Pretty shocking result, right?
So, this is why it is so important to co-create stories and to keep them visible. A great way to do it for example, is you create this storyboards or co-create them, write the epic stories. And then use the storyboards and the epics to work with your development team in a story writing workshop. Session you guys block out to do this together, where they write the child’s stories and you guys iterate through them together. Everything, even if you get the exact same quality of story that you would have written by yourself, you may have made a 10x difference in how well they’re actually understood when they go and implement them.
So I would really consider that as you’re deciding what to build and how to build it. The asymmetry of information, the variability of understanding is probably a lot greater than you think. And that good product manager works really hard to resolve that.

In this video, Alex talks about ways to meet with your team without having a formal meeting. He recommends daily standups to share project visibility. Take a moment to think about how project visibility is shared at your company.

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