Meetup. Right format

In my previous post, I’ve described some initial thoughts about employees Communities. At the bottom of the article, I’ve identified the list of problems we’ve met during our long way to build effective Communities.

Let me share now some solutions we’ve found. I hope it will save you time if you’ll decide to make similar things.

I’ll start with Meetup since it plays a really big role in Community processes: it makes possible to share knowledge, select the most professional employees, identify trends and directions for investigations, etc.

So

What is the best format of the meetup?

In the beginning, we’ve selected “training”-like format:

  • We should prepare and share only high-quality content during meetups. It will be more positive feedback from participants, it will be more informative and effective.
  • To share such kind of content we will need around 1 hour
  • Our goal was to involve as many participants as possible. In other words, we wanted to make our communities as big as possible.

After some meetups, we’ve realized that the selected format doesn’t work. Reasons:

  1. Presenters are not happy to prepare detailed and complex content. They didn’t want to spend their time even for money. After some meetups, they skipped the opportunity to present something.
  2. Such kind meetups were rarely since we’ve searched for presenters and they spend a lot of time to be prepared before the meetup. After some time they were not regular till the total cancelation.
  3. Employees and Reporters have no opportunity to join 1-hour meetups during the working day. After the working day, they prefer to go home and spend this time with the family. Before working day – they prefer to sleep in their beds.
  4. Our goal to build a big community from scratch is not real: meetups/communities were made without a special “friendly domestic” atmosphere, it was no discussions, participants were afraid to share their small topics, etc.
  5. Profit from high-quality content was not so big as expected. We realized that to make it work it should be in training-format, but it needs much more efforts: it needs practical parts, dedicated trainer, well-prepared materials, budget.
  6. When we’ve tried to build a big community – not all community members were motivated to play an active role inside of the community. They worked even as de-motivators.

After all of these facts, we’ve made our key conclusions:

Meetup is not a training

The key goal of the Meetup is not to educate or train, but give a communication point to discuss and share ideas, knowledge, ask for help or consultation, etc.

Meetup should be easy to perform. No prepation needed!

It should be easy to share knowledge. Even small topics make sense for the meetup. No preparation is needed. You need to share the knowledge/questions/results which you already have!

Meetup should be informal

Meetup should have “open” atmosphere which should grow smoothly with community size. Only motivated employees should participate. No needs to grow the community by employees who are not motivated. The community should grow naturally. Even 4 employees enough to start.

Meetup should be short and regular.

We decided to move with 30-minutes meetup per week or two. Short meetups easy to perform since you need not prepare different content, they are not boring and don’t need your time during the working day. Regular meetups provide the feeling of community, live process. It motivates to participate and makes it clear. It makes the people organized.

The last note for today:

Meetup should be online

The offline format is not scalable and works just if you have a single office. In other cases, you need to be scalable to involve motivated people from the whole company, record it if needed, etc. It’s even simple to organize. We’ve tried to organize mixed (offline+online) meetups, but it’s increasing complexity: it’s hard to speak with the community, if you provide both options people prefer to join in online mode, you need to prepare the room, projector, microphones. As I said before – it should easy, not like this.

Don’t worry if you think that you will lose some special feelings in an online format. In the IT world, you need to be ready to communicate online. It’s a really unique case if the team is not shared. Start to work online ASAP.

Good luck! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’ve any question.

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Even one good word

The emotion of this week:

Even one positive feedback can give you enough energy to move to your goal.

As a result, don’t skimp on a good word. Say it even “in credit”!

Perhaps it will serve as the basis for someone’s goals or dreams.

P.S. don’t hesitate to say “Thank you” at least  😉

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It’s a real, real-time world

In the last years, it becomes clear to me that the world was changed. The cool book The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly confirmed my vision and structured it. Let me put some key changes which amaze me even now.

  1. The systems and things we’re doing existing just NOW in the continues flow of transformations and updates. Nobody cares how the things looked before. If the thing is not flexible and not supported it degrades very fast. Let’s imagine such a situation: the system stays 3 months without developers and users and then they are back. I think it will be really hard to recover how it worked before. Additionally, the system will be outdated. Let me rephrase: systems existing only during development and using!
  2. Flows of changes and data are becoming so rapid that you can see them in real-time. Delivery time is reduced just to seconds everywhere: communications, news, video streams, apps changes etc.
  3. The implementations of ideas or technologies are delivered and changing so fast that details are minor. What becomes important is the working idea, business model and understanding of the core principles.

To be honest, I’m not happy with some aspects since I was born in another world, but it’s totally clear that we need to accept and follow the changes to be successful.

To be a working part of human-machine interactions we’re creating, not only things we do, but we ourselves should follow the rules:

  1. If you want to manage the changes flow you need to be fast. Decisions should be made now and corrected in the future. You should be a real-time man.
  2. You should be flexible and open to changes.
  3. You should invest your time in the understanding of core principles. Details will be found during the implementation.
  4. You should be responsive. If you’ve received the request you should handle it ASAP.

I hope we don’t lose our humanity in this challenging and stressfully world.

P.S. I recommend the book from above. It provides useful ideas in a clear and simple way.

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Communities. Beginning.

Before I’ll start, let me describe our company: it’s an international IT-company with 900+ employees, providing software development and IT-consulting.

Around 2 years ago I got the opportunity to boost the technical level of the company.

A not easy challenge, but it was a great opportunity to try my approaches and visions.

In the beginning, it was different kind of questions to solve. Let me share the most important of them: 

  1. How to identify directions for improvements?
  2. How to form the team which will make it possible?
  3. How to make it work not one time, but day-by-day?
  4. How to make it work with a small budget?

   I don’t remember how it happened, but a wonderful answer to all these questions came from my subconscious: let’s build communities for each work area: Business Analysis, Java Development, JS Development, DevOps, Quality Assurance and so on.

Let’s clarify my understanding of the Community:

Community – is an open informal group of employees who are interested in knowledge sharing in a specific work area. 

Let me highlight few words:

Open – it means that all employees can be a part of the community. No restrictions related to experience. Why? Each person can be helpful! Sometimes proactivity and creativity of the young people are vital for the work process.

Informal – it should be a friendly and homelike atmosphere between community members. Why? It should easy to share knowledge and even small achievements. Members should be loyal to the experience of each other and ready to help. There is no community without easy communications. 

Interested – means not-indifferent and proactive. Why it’s important? An indifferent employee has no energy to get or share the experience. Such employees are more like zeros for the community. In all cases, they are welcome. Important note: be sure they don’t demotivate other community members. Such kind of people exists as well. 

So how communities will help with the questions from above? Let me answer in a different order and elaborate community idea.

  • How to form the team which will make it possible?  

Let’s begin with regular Meetups where community members will share knowledge, discuss trends, new approaches, problems, solutions. Here it will be possible to identify the most professional and proactive employees for other activities. Additionally, we can select the most experienced member to help with community leading. Let’s call them Community Lead. The most regular meetups members will form the Community Core. This formation will be really useful with performing of the most important and complex work.

  • How to identify directions for improvements?  

It will be possible during meetups discussions. Especially during discussions of the new trends and existing problems. Additionally, we can send regular Newsletter with the review of existing trends, useful resources and so on. Responsible member will get new experience and share it with the whole community. All of these will cover one big goal: Aligning of the company with future trends, but it’s not all. Community efforts can be applied to cover more areas: mentoring, training of employees, providing consultations and help other employees and projects, knowledge mining (research) and sharing, organizing of technical events (i.e. Hackathons), Sales Support and so on.

  • How to make it work not one time, but day-by-day?  

With the structure from above and regular activities (i.e. Meetups, Newsletters etc), Communities will become an integral and permanent part of the company. After some time it will be possible to identify, describe and support related processes to make them stable and effective.

  • How to make it work just with a small budget? 

The secret is that Communities are helpful not only for the company but especially for the employees themselves: they get new skills, new experience, help, field for creativity. Just for free! As a result, the company can pay just for extra efforts like community leading,  meetups organizing, newsletter preparation, but as a result get a really great profit and help. 

I hope the concept of communities has become more understandable and simple. 

Unfortunately, the greatest difficulties in creating something are rooted in details.

The devil is in the details

Let’s highlight the top of problems met on my way to communities building. 

  1. How to find initial community members?
  2. How to communicate with the community?
  3. What the best format of the meetup?
  4. Who is the best Community Lead?
  5. How to make Community processes stable?
  6. How to motivate employees to join the community?
  7. How to launch a pure technical community with many introverts inside?
  8. How to apply community efforts in the best way?
  9. How to make the community part of the company processes?
  10. How to measure community profits?

Like in movies, let’s answer on these questions in the next posts. See you! 

By the way: let me wish you a happy and prosperous Happy Year!

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Invisible man

What does come to mind if you need to asses your colleague? What areas do you usually measure?

Let me mention some of them:

  • Knowledge in the technical area
  • Professional approaches
  • Ability to work in the team

During my practice, I’ve detected one more important option.

But let me describe the situation I’ve met:

Due to some reasons, it was no daily stand-ups on the project. One of my team members worked for a long time on the task. The task was quite complex with different hidden stones inside.

The problem was that he provided his status only on my request. Results were hard to check and he always shifted the deadlines. As a result, after a month of work, when it was an internal assessment it was hard to evaluate his efforts and skills. He was like an invisible man for me. It was not clear how professional he is.

Another colleague was confused as well. She said a great phrase:

He has low VISIBILITY.

Yep. That is the perfect word! I’m using it now for some set of professional approaches.

After thinking let me summarize what I mean under Visibility:

Visibility is the ability of a person to provide timely and tangible information about his current work results.

Tangible means that the results can be easily checked: it could be a pull request, test case, user story, demonstration, charts, video recording, report, email etc.

Note that results of work can include even the list of blockers provided by email.

Problems we meet are the results of our work as well.

Timely means not right before the deadline but provided in an iterative way, right after receiving any tangible achievement.

What is the profit from visibility?

For the manager and the whole team I see the following points:

  • It makes it easy to check actual results and plan the future work and deliverables
  • It reduces delays in development and unexpected problems and results at all
  • It makes possible timely handling of the problems
  • The results are visible for the team and the customer
  • It avoids unpleased moments during work result assessment

For the employee itself:

  • It works as self-marketing. If your positive results are visible for management it increases your karma salary: your achievements will be not ignored and will be used during the assessment procedure.
  • If you speak openly about your problems, it’s a big chance that your team will help you to resolve them
  • If you make your work results tangible it means that they became better quality
  • It avoids unpleased surprises during your work assessment

Why Visibility is so important? Let’s imagine that the profits from above are revoked.

In the context of the situation from above, I’ve made additional conclusions:

Daily standup increases the visibility for the whole team. Avoiding this practice badly reflected on each team member.

The manager should describe to the team how to become visible. Keep it in mind that visibility is not usual for some people.

High visibility is a part of high professionalism!

Be visible!

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Good Roman proverb

You are angry – means, you are not right.

I wish to remember it in discussion.

Emails writing

Defacto emails are the most important and useful channels for work conversations. Better is probably the talks in person.

Emails allow you to discuss details and you can return back to them anytime.

Since it’s not direct conversations, you are hidden behind the words. That means that you need to pay extra attention to how they are used to be correct and gentle.

Let me share with you some materials which can be helpful during email writing. It includes:

  • Keyphrases to be polite and official in emails
  • Examples and templates for different email types
  • Linking words

All these you could find in this shared folder. Enjoy!

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TO DO

In our world, we’ve to remember and plan a lot of things.

Let’s summarize what it could be:

  1. Meetings at some time and place (i.e. weekly status call or meeting with friends)
  2. Actions to do for some day and time (i.e. send some important report)
  3. Actions to do for some date (i.e. congratulate colleague with the birthday or fill timesheet, check task progress)
  4. Actions to do in near future without an exact date (i.e. analyze some unimportant email)
  5. Actions in the far future (i.e. review article)
  6. Recurring meetings and actions
  7. Notes (i.e. articles to review)

As you see it’s a lot of information to remember in our world. Often this information is critical: nobody wants to miss an important deadline, meeting or just the birthday of the best friend. The problem is that:

Constantly trying to remember things drains energy and causes stress.

Fortunately, we have a lot of tools and approaches how to take all this pressure and worrying off of your head.

Let me share my way to this goal.

  • A long time ago I’ve started with the simplest solution: writing in a paper notebook/organizer with sheets marked with dates. It resolved some pain , but a lot of things still became unhandled:
    • Not easy to move actions to the next days. You need just to copy paste them
    • Not easy to handle actions without dates
    • You need to have the notebook near to you
    • No notifications about events
    • No way to handle recurring events

Summary:

It’s really important to add notes fast since nobody will wait for you during discussion.

It should be easy to move notes from one day to another! It’s important since it’s impossible to finish all the available work in one day.

Notes should be always near to you!

It should be possibility to save reccuring events and actions.

It should be the way to mark some events or actions as important/unimportant.

  • Then I have moved all meetings in calendars based on the email apps(i.e. Outlook Thunderbird). It resolved a lot of pains related to meetings and events with exact date/time, but different items were not resolved:
    • Actions without date and time are hard to handle
    • Actions in the far future can be easily forgotten
    • Not clear how to add notes

A lot of actions have not the exact date and time.

  • I’ve introduced small colored stickers for actions without date and time. It was easy to fill them and it was really motivative when you completed the task and throw related sticker out in a basket. But:
    • It’s easy to forget notes about action
    • Stickers are not always near to you

Summary:

It’s perfect when completence of actions motivates!

  • Using whole day events in the calendar tool for actions without exact time. It made all my notes located in one place. Additionally, it was easy to move them between dates. But:
    • It was hard to separate meetings and actions without exact dates. All thing displayed as events. As a result, it was around 20 events for one day.
    • It was not possible to plan for actions without a date.

Summary:

It’s inconvenient to see the mix of meetings and actions without exact time.

Then I’ve searched for a good tool for actions and finally found it by recommendation of a colleague:

  • I’ve moved all actions and notes from the calendar to the Todoist app. This tool covered all requirements I’ve described above! Additionally, this tool has the intelligent way how to shift actions: it suggests the most convenient day for action and more other things. Also it motivates to complete the actions with different approaches as karma and daily limit.

Now I’ve separated apps for meetings and actions on desktop and mobile as well and finally, it’s easy to see the meetings for the day and get reminders for them and handle actions from Todoist.

As a result, I recommend to use calendars i.e. Google Calendar, Outlook for meetings and the Todoist app for other kinds of actions.

Please let me know if have any questions or notes! Enjoy!

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Team Mascot

As I wrote in the post about Communication Channels:

A little informality in communication makes it more humane and open.

It means more effective and positive.

For such purpose, I’ve used the solution from mass media, marketing, and sports clubs:

Each team selects their own Mascot – some well-known character(s) from comics or movies who brings luck. Examples: Simpsons, Superman, Transformers, Star Wars etc.

Then the team uses it in different places across the project:

  1. We add related images in emails.
  2. We add related images in slides and presentations. Even in demonstrations to the customer 😉
  3. We put related memes in chats
  4. We use mascot avatars in messengers
  5. We give related presents like small figures or T-Shirts for project success or for some achievements
  6. We’re using the mascot during hackathons or team events

Let me share an example of “Welcome On Board” email on our project and let’s imagine it just without the image:

mascot example

Look!

It’s easy and not serious, but it unites the team and makes it really unique.

Side note: it’s nice if the team selected a mascot which includes group of characters like Simpsons or M&M’s. In this case, each team member can find something special for himself.

Don’t hesitate to be funny!

Humor makes us human!

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Meetings Log

Meeting without action items looks like chatter.

But it’s STILL CHATTER if action items were defined, but not checked how they are handled.

I think you will easily remind such kind of meeting when action items are defined in words or even defined in the follow-up email, but not handled or just forgotten after the next followup.

I’ve asked myself how to make the action items not be blah-blah-blah items, but action items: when people will return to them till they are not done.

Actions items should initiate real actions!

On the last projects, I’ve moved from followup emails to Meeting Log.

And it works great!

Meeting Log is a simple Confluence page with the history of the meeting.

It’s just simple grid with the following columns:

  • Date and Type – date of the meeting (in the past or in future), and type (i.e. Technical, Weekly etc).
  • Agenda: Reporter + Agenda. It’s easy now to plan the future meetings. All team members can easily to add items for the meeting in the future etc.
  • Action Items: Actor + Action.  Action initially marked by some visible sign that it should be handled by Actor. During the next meeting, we check the items with signs and remove them if the action is performed. It can be different results of action: email is sent, the ticket is assigned etc

It looks like this:

Meeting Log

With such a simple solution, our action items mean real action: we’re returning to the items with a sign and check them till they are not completed with any result.

The only problem you will meet is to make it filled by the responsible team members. In my case it was easy: BA fills it instead of follow-up, TL fills technical log to not forget what was discussed and what tickets should be created.

I hope it will be helpful for you!

Don’t hesitate to put your comments if you’ve any questions.  Thanks!

Side note: Confluence provides a rich set of macros to make this process easy and good looking (i.e. generation of the question mark, select date, select actor etc)

Open questions:

  1. Is it possible for Artificial Intelligence to take this routine with Meeting Log filling?
  2. Probably in Confluence we need to use checkboxes instead of questions marks.

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