Would you rather have a snow day or detention?
Engineers dislike meetings. I sent a link to An Agile SRE Meeting Plan, by far my most popular blog post, to a senior engineering leader at a portfolio company. Those are the first words of that post.
He read the piece and came back to talk about it. He explained that instead of having meetings like the weekly Architecture meeting scheduled regularly, he did them “ad hoc as needed” and that “those that need to be involved are determined and invited”. I thought about his response for a little bit and then asked: “When you were growing up, would you rather have a snow day from school, or detention?”
If an engineer has the Architecture meeting on their calendar at a specific day and time every week, they can plan their schedule around it. The team(s) can even come together to decide when would be the least disruptive and best time for the meeting. If they were planning to attend the meeting on a particular day and it was canceled for lack of topics, or some other reason, they would get time back in their life that they did not expect. Like a snow day.
If the architecture meeting is ad hoc, nobody knows which weeks it will be scheduled, and which it will not. They go into each week unsure when their time will be taken up by the meeting, when it will cause a scheduling conflict with their meditation time, or independent study time, or when they have to pick up their kid from school and will have to arrange for coverage. As hybrid and work from home has become the norm over the past few years, this is even more acute. Having to do something unexpected because someone in authority tells you it’s necessary is disruptive, like detention.
Because most of the companies I work with are in the growth stage of the private equity holding period, there are always topics for the Architecture meeting. These companies are undergoing massive changes in order to meet the targets set forth by their PE overlords. Nobody is resting on their laurels, so there are constant changes to the way things are done that require discussion. They are continually improving.
As I’ve written before , for an engineer to be productive and not merely busy, they need a block of time, free from distractions, and the work needs to be complex. Sometimes ad hoc meetings are necessary. If they are planned to be ad hoc from the start, they are interrupting the ability to dedicate a block of time.
How do you ensure your engineers have time to be productive? How do you ensure that striving to improve is built into the way your organization operates? Would you rather get detention or a snow day?