Effective meetings as a Software Engineer

Effective meetings as a Software Engineer

One of the most important skills one needs to develop on a path to becoming a Senior Software Engineer, or, eventually, a people manager, is the skill of running smooth and productive meetings.

The key to successful growth and having productive engineering meetings are listed as follows:

1. Take ownership

We all have done the work to run an engineering project meeting irrespective of us being the lead engineer on that project or not. If you are running your meeting, own it as your project. Engineering project meetings can be challenging, because they often involve participants across different disciplines, from engineering to the UI/UX team, to product owners. 

Running a meeting isn’t about superiority or even seniority. We must not be afraid to take a stand and take ownership. The role of the initiator is to facilitate the conversation in the meeting. The idea is to have a meaningful discussion that aims to involve everyone and get everyone on the same page.

2. Think before scheduling the meeting

Not every meeting is required or necessary. As the owner, you must identify if that meeting is worth everyone’s time. Sometimes the meeting can be shortened, postponed, or just skipped.

This general exercise should be valid for recurring meetings. Occasionally it is easier to pen down the updates on the meeting chat. This saves everyone their time and allows a short minutes of the meeting to be ready in place.

3. Set a clear agenda in advance

Almost all meetings require some sort of homework or preparation. There must be a clear agenda that is available to all participants to read and contribute to hours before the meeting takes place.

Any relevant document, mail chain, article, piece of code or any other thing that could be required for the discussion must be shared with the meeting invite. This allows the participants to be well aware of the discussion they can expect in the meeting. They can prepare themselves with relevant questions or even answers/solutions to the same.

A gentle reminder to prepare and review the content before the meeting goes a long way!

4. Invite only the relevant people to the meeting

Not every meeting is for everyone. Involving only the relevant audience to a meeting saves time and energy for all. Smaller participants size usually allows the maximum number of people to speak. It also allows for quicker conclusions.

At any point during the meeting, if there is a need for an external participant, we can always add them. Giving a quick context to them can help them to be on board with the conversation.

5. Encourage questions and collaboration

During a meeting, it is easy to remain in the background hiding behind other people’s voices. However, that is NOT a productive meeting practice. It is important to ensure that you encourage questions and collaboration from the participants.

6. Have a plan for running the meeting

The engineering team runs meetings of different sorts.

  1. General Standup calls
  2. Refinement sessions
  3. Sprint Planning
  4. Retrospective
  5. Ideation / Brainstorming
  6. Tech Talks and Knowledge Sharing (KT)

Each meeting has its specific requirement and way of running. To define a good and tested process for each meeting that works best for your team and your project produces the best output.

For Stand-up meetings, it’s simple to use the project management tool and let everyone speak about their assigned tasks for each swim lane.

For Refinement sessions, it’s good to have the backlog ready with enough tickets. A good mix of Stories, Bugs, Tech-Debts is ideal.

For Sprint planning sessions, it’s great to estimate the man-hours available for the sprint. Each team member can call out their leave plans and thus accommodate the appropriate number of points in the sprint.

For Retrospective sessions, a retro board can be shared with the team, and the members can add their points about the sprint in the first few minutes of the meeting. Followed by which, the owner (scrum master or sprint champion) can discuss the thoughts added by the team.

7. Take notes  

Taking notes is an art as well a necessity for diverse teams. A dedicated member (can be decided beforehand) should be actively taking notes, adding thoughts, decisions and action items from the meeting. 

Sometimes when the owner of the meeting is occupied running the discussion, a fellow teammate can pitch in to do this task of taking notes.

8. Don’t be afraid to intervene

Time is money. Keeping track of the time as well as maintaining direction is the key to a healthy meeting. At any point if the conversation seems to get sidetracked, or if the discussion is getting heated, or taking up too much time, you should interject to diffuse the situation and get things back on track.

The meeting must be content for every participant. Without a fruitful conclusion or action item, the meeting feels incomplete.

9. Keep everyone in the loop after the meeting

Following up on the work and discussion is as important as the meeting. There is NO use of the meeting if there are no action items, follow-ups or concrete decisions made post it.

We must polish the notes taken during the interview and share a summary of the same as well as the next steps with all the members in the meetings.

Final Thoughts:

Running meetings with these points above is no rocket science. It is a habit that slowly develops and can extend to be the culture of your team and your company.

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