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Guidelines and Formulas for Preparing Large Product Teams

Responsible for large teams and complex projects? Here's some useful advice. By Jean Tabaka

This sample chapter from the book: Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders is provided courtesy of Addison Wesley Professional
This chapter provides a set of guidelines and formulas to think about when preparing large product teams for the large meetings that move their work forward.


page 1
  • What It Means
  • Interviewing the Sponsor
page 2
  • Determining the Participants
  • Surveying Participants
page 3
  • Setting the List of Attendees?Participants and Observers
  • Setting the Expectations
In my work with large project teams or with product teams composed of multiple project teams, I have learned the importance of paying attention to the participants long before they walk in the door for a meeting. This chapter provides a set of guidelines and formulas to think about when preparing such teams for the large meetings that move their work forward. As you read this guidance, think about how you can take the formality here and massage it, relax it, in order to apply it to small team contexts. Pay attention to the intent of the practices as you then move to alter them for your specific team contexts.

What It Means

Getting a team off on the right collaborative foot for an event or meeting requires some preparation work on your part prior to the meeting. To help team members understand the collaborative intent of the work and to encourage their enthusiastic participation, youll want to find out a few useful things about each persons involvement. Additionally, youll want to arm each participant with any information that can usefully prepare them to actively participate. Finally, youll want to address the logistics necessary to smoothly pave the way for the actual event. When you prepare team members in this fashion, you help them believe that they own the meeting before they ever arrive in the room.

You prepare participants for collaboration by:

  • Interviewing the sponsor
  • Determining the participants
  • Surveying the participants
  • Setting the list of attendees
  • Setting the expectations

Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders
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Interviewing the Sponsor

In workshops, design meetings, retrospectives, or planning meetings, you may be the project manager who is calling the meeting with a specific end in mind (for example, "We need a design decision," "We need commitment from the executive leadership," or "We have to declare a go/no go on deployment of the latest build."). In another scenario, as project manager, you may have been asked by the customer or stakeholders to hold a planning meeting to kick off the project. Or, because the project manager has subject matter expertise that requires her to actively participate in the meeting, you may have been asked to help the team by facilitating the meeting.

In any of these scenarios, your first order of business is to clearly identify, "Who is the sponsor of this meeting, and how can I ensure that this person gets what they need from this meeting?" The sponsor is the person (or the group of people) who has the most to gain or lose as a result of the meetings outcomes. In a sense, they are the party that needs the collaboration to take place and to succeed: They need some piece of information, or a strategy, or a decision, or a commitment from the participants.

For preliminary planning meetings, such as a Release Planning meeting, this is an executive or senior person representing the client group in the development project. They have secured the funding and the commitment from the business to proceed with the development effort. In addition, theyve made predictions, assurances, or promises about the value the project can deliver. For the Release Planning meeting in an Extreme Programming project, the sponsor might be the customer who needs to learn how the team can define a high-level view of the next product release. In a retrospective, it might be the project manager who wants to learn more from the team about how to proceed with best practices in the future.

In collaborative, high-performing teams, the "sponsor" is very often the entire team; they have a specific need to have you very objectively manage the meeting agenda for them to ensure that they stay on track for their purpose. You merely own the process that gets them to their purpose through the means (agenda and practices) that can ensure their success.

To hold a successful collaboration, ask yourself or the sponsor:

What is the purpose of this meeting?

You can also reflect on these supporting questions to provide further insight into the meetings goals:

  • What do you want to accomplish through this meeting?
  • What problems do you intend to address in this meeting?
  • What benefits do you hope to reap?
  • What organizational issues do you wish to address?
  • What is the current situation of the group?
  • What is the future state desired?

What Is the Purpose of This Meeting?

Of all the questions you might ask about a meeting, the most important is "What is the purpose of this meeting?"

Even for your own meetings (you are calling a planning meeting with your team, or you want to hold a project retrospective, or you need to hold a refactoring meeting), this big yet simple question prompts you to clearly define for yourself the sole and singular purpose of the meeting. It keeps you focused and honest.

To figure out the purpose of the meeting, pose the following scenario and question to the sponsor (or yourself):

"Imagine that the meeting has just ended."

"You are walking out the door of the meeting, and you turn to your colleague and say, ?I am so happy with what the group has accomplished in this meeting!"

"What was it that the group accomplished that made you so happy?"

When you are able to answer this question, then and only then do you have the true purpose of your meeting. But beware! You may discover even at this point that your meeting is in peril of failure. Here are a few indicators that your meetings purpose may still be a bit too fuzzy to warrant gathering your team:

  • You cant articulate the purpose in a single statement (yes, it is a design meeting, but you havent yet formulated with the team how the design should be captured, what the scope of the design is to be, or what agreements are expected to emerge as a result of the design discussion).
  • You have too many things you want to accomplish in one meeting and they dont really relate to one another.
  • You dont know the purpose because the real reason you are having the meeting is because your director told you to have it.
  • You hadnt really planned on an outcome; you just wanted to get together to talk with your team.
  • You always have the meeting because it is your weekly meeting; that is its purpose.

So, how will you know when you are on the right track for defining your meeting? Youll know you have a clearly stated purpose when:

  • It can be stated in the following way: "The purpose of the meeting is to ............." where you can fill in an action ("create," "define," "select," "produce") followed by an outcome ("process definition," "iteration scope," "Product Backlog," "set of use cases," "conceptual object model").
  • It represents the outcome that would convince you (or whoever is the meetings sponsor) that the meeting has been a success.

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Related Keywords:project management, leadership, teamwork, collaboration, meeting


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