Monday, April 5, 2010

A 96 hour meeting

I didn’t think about it this way, but it made perfect sense after I read an essay. Recently my team at my day job had an offsite gathering for brainstorming and evaluating our group’s place in the company. We met for two days away from the office, and 6 of us were in a meeting room for 8 hours a day.

That’s not a two day meeting, or a 16 hour meeting. It was for me, but for the company that was a 96 hour meeting.

Just think about the loss of productivity from that two days. Across 2 major sites, that’s a lot of work lost. True we did get some things done, and we had the chance to each hear what the others think of their business and how to improve it. However it also added a lot of stress. In addition to the need for me to work nearly twice as hard for the time of the meetings (2 days), I also had to take more time to prepare for the meeting, in my case, about 3-4 hours, which was twice as long as I presented.

That’s stress to be prepared for the meeting, but that meant that essentially the 2 hour meeting time for me meant a 6 hour increase in work. Two hours of work, two hours of extra work to handle things, and two hours of prep.

Imagine how many meetings you have in your company, even in small companies. Taking a couple hours of each day for a meeting between 2 or 3 people and it’s no wonder that 12 hours days are needed to get many companies going. That lowers creativity, adds stress, and doesn’t necessarily accomplish a lot.

What can you do instead?

What I’d recommend is that you empower people to make more decisions. Don’t require meetings to get things done, and when you do need people to get together, make it minimal. Schedule time and limit the number of people, and solve things quickly. Don’t take a half hour for a meeting. Start on time, get the issue out there, debate it and make a decision in half the time to allotted.

Then go back to work.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sunk Costs

I was reading a book recently (Rework) and there was a chapter in there about assessing the relevance and impact of the things you work on. I had heard this before, but hadn’t thought about it in some time. I have a few projects underway, and I should assess if they are still worth it.

The basic idea is that whatever you’ve done, whatever resources you’ve invested (time or money), are gone. It isn’t relevant for trying to decide if you should continue. If you continue on because you’ve invested in the project, it’s ego. It’s saving face, and not necessarily productive.

I first heard about this during the Cold War. There was a defense contractor that invested $20million in some weapon. However they reached a point where it wasn’t working and there was some concern if the military would buy it. One engineer wanted to scrap the project and start over with a new idea. There were others that said since $20million was invested, they needed to continue.

Someone in management finally said that the $20million was irrelevant in the decision. That money was gone whether they continued on or started over. The question was what is the best decision now.

It’s easy to get invested in a project, either emotionally, or because of the money. It’s also easy to let that investment drive you, rather than re-assessing your current situation.

Don’t consider the sunk costs. Don’t consider anything as being thrown away. If a project needs to be scrapped, take away a learning experience, however expensive, and move on. Do your best not to get trapped by previous bad decisions and make the best decision for this point in time. If you can reuse things do that, but don’t force yourself to reuse things because you invested in them.