Monthly Archives: January 2021

Book Notes: Making Every Meeting Matter

HBR Guide to Making Every Meeting Matter by Harvard Business Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you even need to hold a meeting?

  • Have you through it through? No – schedule time to think strategically
  • Do you need outside input to make progress? No – schedule time to do the work
  • Do you need a real-time conversation? No – send an email
  • Does it need to be face-to-face? No – send a chat or have a video call
  • If yes to all of the above schedule the meeting and prepare for it

Be consistent on what a meeting actually means

  • Gatherings of two people are simply conversations
  • Sessions where people are collaborating on a task are group work sessions
  • Idea generation sessions are brainstormings
  • Information dissemination sessions for convenience are generally a bad idea
  • Information dissemination sessions for alignment a meeting may or may not be valuable
  • Meetings out of habit or tradition are formality meetings, check if these are valuable
  • Where connecting is the key their social meetings, likely a team building more suitable
  • Decision-supporting meetings to aid a leader in making a decision either seeking input or asking for approval

Understanding the meetings goals by having a clear answer to:

  • What do you want to have debated, decided or discovered at the end of this session that you and the team haven’t already debated, decided or discovered?
  • What do you want attendees to say when their team members ask, “What happened at the big meeting?”

Shorter meetings

25 or 50 minute meetings allows for people to better get from one meeting to the next without a cascading problem. Instead of an hour try 25/30 min meetings as the short meeting will push for the more important content to be discussed, more preparation, people arriving on time, etc.

Consider having a timer which prevents people speaking for too long to help people focus on the point they want to make and keeps the meeting moving quicker.

Smaller meetings

For active discussions 8 people is about the limit, for brainstorming with variety of input 18 beyond that it needs to be more of a presentation/cascade format as it is harder for people to contribute.

Ground rules such as

  • Silence Denotes Agreement – So people feel compelled to speak up in the moment.
  • Commitment to start and end on time
  • Ask for participation and openness to ideas
  • Agree to listen and to limit interruptions
  • Clarify how decisions will be made
  • Rule out the myth of multitasking

Decision making methods

Group consensus


  • Allows all participants to share their expertise to arrive at the best decision
  • Results in all participants understanding the decision and implications
  • Greatly enhances the chance of buy-in


  • May think they all need to agree to and believe in the final decision which means it can go round in circles
  • May take more time than other decision making methods
  • May require a second decision making method if consensus can not be reached
  • Leaders can feel obliged to follow the decision and abdicate responsibility

Majority Vote


  • Speed in decision making
  • Group perceives the decision is fair
  • You hear from everyone, even people who are usually quiet


  • Open voting requires taking a public stand on an issue
  • Can be perceived as a winner and loser
  • People may not feel comfortable voting according to their true feeling or voice reservations
  • Losers often feel that their voice has not been heard
  • Not everyone buys into the decision
  • May or may not arrive at the best decision
  • Leaders can feel obliged to follow the decision and abdicate responsibility

Leaders Choice


  • It’s the fastest approach to decision making and may be the best approach when time is short or in a crisis
  • If participants respect the leader then they are more likely to buy into the decision.
  • Leaders are completely accountable for the decision and its implications


  • Participants may feel that they are not heard, especially if they have not been given the opportunity to voice their opinions
  • Implementation may be more challenging as people don’t feel ownership or buy-in to the result

Not attending a meeting

  • What is the value of the meeting? No – speak to the organiser to improve its chances of success or getting it cancelled
  • Am I the right person to attend? No – can you recommend someone else to attend in you place
  • Is the meeting a priority for me right now? No – can you contribute in advance or attend only part of the meeting


  • Check for completeness – before moving on check that everyone had said everything they need to, if you move on too quickly people will likely re-open the topic again later.
  • Check for alignment – “Is everyone ok with where we ended up?” to see if people can’t live with the decision
  • Agree on next steps – Get firm, clear commitments
  • Reflect on the value – Be verbal and concrete about the benefits from the discussion
  • Check for acknowledgements – Acknowledge if people made special contributions
  • Gather feedback – How did it go? How could we be even better next time?

Book Notes: Empowered

Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan with Chris Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The key message behind the book is that for companies to build products which are valuable to the customer they need empowered product teams where technology is seen as a core competency and partner. Where teams are given meaningful ownership of problems to solve, not tasks to complete, with data as a cornerstone. To achieve this there is a need for a higher quality of leadership.

The Role of Technology

Technology is a core function, not just an expense. To achieve amazing output technology and product needs to be first class citizens, not an expense to be reduced. Providing teams of missionaries with problems is going to actually help reduce costs compared to providing tasks to mercenaries. At strong product and tech companies technology is not there to serve the business it is the business. Technology is not just there to improve efficiency, it is a key enabler to reimagine the future of the business.

Develop People Is Job #1

For teams to achieve requires competent and capable people who can achieve the best results. This is not to just hire the best and leave them to it, this is by coaching people so that they can get better every day. These people need space to own outcomes, not just tasks.

Insecure managers have a large challenge in empowering teams as they feel a need to be recognised for their contributions and see their team as a threat to this which causes them to undermine it. This can result in a lack of diverse viewpoints which diminishes the teams value or hide mistakes which is both harmful and prevents growth and learning.

The leads need to produce a safe and trusting tram for diverse viewpoints to be heard and for mistakes to be discussed and seek to teach or push people to achieve their potential – especially when not realised by the individual.

The book provides a ways to assess product people in product, process and people to produce a gap analysis that can feed into a coaching plan. This can then be worked on and reviewed in 1:1 sessions. Key areas are for people to be dependable, to work in the companies best interests and to be accountable.

There are a set of anti-pattern to watch out for:

  • Manager Doesn’t Care – this is when leaders don’t like or see developing people as a key responsibility.
  • Manager Reverts to Micromanaging – Micromanaging is easy but it won’t help people develop.
  • Manager Spends Time Talking and Not Listening – The session is primarily for your subordinate and not you, it is too easy to talk for the whole session. Also different people learn in different ways so you need to be sensitive to this.
  • Manager Doesn’t Provide Difficult Feedback – People need to hear the hard news so that they can learn to grow and improve.
  • Manager Is Insecure and/or Incompetent – If you are insecure or incompetent then you are letting your team down as they will be unable to grow (law of the lid).
  • Manager Doesn’t Cut Losses – Not everything works out, sometimes you need to cut your losses and let someone go if they are not growing sufficiently.

Three critical characteristics of strong product teams

  1. Tackle risks early
  2. Solve problems collaboratively
  3. Be accountable for results

Collaboration anti-patterns

  • One decider – This is not collaboration, this is a dictator model.
  • Consensus – It is not unusual for there to be difference of opinion, sometimes there needs to be a judgement call or a test to resolve differences.
  • Artifacts – Documents such as “requirements” these shut down discussions and collaboration.
  • Compromise – aka vote for your favorite. This can result in mediocre results which is not good for anyone.
  • Doing what the customer said – Product is to innovate on behalf of the customer, not for the customer to produce requirements.

What we want are solutions which are

  • Valuable – for people to buy or choose it
  • Usable – so people can experience the value
  • Feasible – something that we can build to deliver the value
  • Viable – Something that is able to sell or support and it is net positive
  • Ethical – Even if we can and we could make money, should we

To achieve this we need to collaborate to identify what we don’t know and to experiment to see if these can be overcome. We need decisions and collaboration to be transparent so people understand the why and background behind them. Disagree and commit:

  1. If you see a snake (important decision to be made), kill it
  2. Don’t play with dead snakes (important decision you have made)
  3. All opportunities start out looking like snakes


The best product companies hire competent people of character, and then coach and develop them into members of extraordinary teams.

Staffing does not mean hiring – this is a much bigger topic and one that the responsibility lies with the manager, not with HR – HR are there to help/partner but they are not responsible.

Of the two phases: discovery and delivery, co-location is magic for discovery. During the discovery phase the product manager, designer and tech lead should be working together – not via artifacts passed between them.

The book highlights the important difference between an individual contributor role to a people management position where the latter is not a more-senior position but a fundamentally different job requiring different skills and talents.

We should build a product vision which is compelling and share it, not create a roadmap of features and share that else this ties our hands too much. We should be stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

Producing principles compliment the vision by sharing the values and beliefs which should help guide decision making and ensure that the product remains ethical.

In the team topology there are two types of teams – platform teams which manage services so they can be leveraged by other teams and experience teams which are responsible for how the products value is exposed to users and customers. Experience teams are sub-divided again into customer-facing teams which focuses on the experience the customer receives and customer-enabling which are teams which are internal users both work best with end-to-end responsibilities. These teams need to be autonomous such that they are regularly able to deliver value without dependencies on other teams, it is quite common for products to have two sides (e.g. buyers and sellers) here it is empowering to organise the teams by the side of the marketplace.

Product Strategy

How do we decide which problems the teams should solve? The answer is the product strategy. This requires:

  • Tough choices on what is really important to provide focus
  • Generating, identifying and leveraging insights
  • Converting insights into actions by giving teams problems to solve
  • Active (not micro) management identifying, tracking and resolving obstacles

With regards to objectives there should be just team objectives. The results must be defined in terms of business results which the team need to own and are brought into by setting the target – but the measure needs to be meaningful not a substitute because it is easier to measure. We should be clear with the team if we are looking for a roof shot or a moon shot so they can determine the aptitude for risk. To note the manager is the one assigning the problem to the team and deciding on the acceptable level of risk for the team to take. Companies that avoid shared or common objectives in the name of autonomy or communication often limit their ability to solve the toughest and most important problems.

High-integrity commitments do happen but they should be the exception else this will still be a delivery team not an empowered product team.

Effective objectives:

  • Assigning problems and giving team space to solve them
  • If a team volunteers this should be taken into account but volunteering does not mean they are the right team for the job
  • Leaders decide which teams work on which objective but the key results need to come from the team.
  • A back and forth on deciding the objectives is very normal
  • There is nothing wrong with assigning the same objective to multiple teams
  • There is nothing wrong with asking multiple teams to collaborate on the same objective
  • Clarity on the level of ambition you want from the team.
  • Keeping the lights on activities are also important and should not be neglected but this should also not become a back door to get work done by the team
  • Quarterly gives space to the team to focus but adaptability to the business

Book Notes: One Mission

One Mission: How Leaders Build A Team Of Teams by Chris Fussell with Charles Goodyear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The aim of the book is to highlight ways to improve the speed of getting things done – as more and more work is done in cynefin defined complex environments the solutions for the complicated and obvious domains, e.g. bureaucracy, are no longer suitable to solve the problems.

  1. The traditional organisational structure is the usual way to support decision making, however it is slow with each level working at a slower cadence than the one below.
  2. Additionally people lean on the organisational structure so that they don’t need to take full accountability for their actions e.g. “well I escalated the issue” etc.
  3. Finally with the cascading of goals you get two problems –
    • Firstly that at each layer in the organisation there is a different focus or interpretation meaning that as the goals cascade they diverge.
    • Secondly that although the goals might be aligned the timing might not meaning that different parts of the organisation get out of synch of the other.

The issue with goal cascade and speed is overcome using (in their case) a daily meeting which is open to anyone who wants to attend – this is not for hierarchical reports, this is for collaborative problem solving. It is during this session that a reminder can also be given about the priorities so that everyone hears the exact same message – bringing shared consciousness. This session depends on good interpersonal relationships and psychological safety for it to work, as such people were addressed by first names and used video so people to build trust and asked for their thoughts not just raw data. It is important for senior people in these forums to be honest such as highlighting what they don’t know – here not knowing was acceptable; not thinking wasn’t. The frequency of the meetings set the temp for the organisation – ensuring that they could maximise the value of information before it became out of date and worthless.

Its goal was collective learning to drive autonomous action, not grading one another on completed efforts. It was a forward-looking forum, not a hindsight review.

Between these meetings teams have empowered execution through the use of rules which clearly bound what they are allowed to do and in which cases they need to seek approval. The challenge with empowered execution is that people want autonomy without accountability – they can commonly be hesitant. This is the quickest way for the decentralised approach to fail.

The other is deviance – where people step outside of the norms, there are two forms of this, positive and negative. The positive form is where people outstep the norms within their approved space, this could be a different way or working or approaching a problem. The negative deviance is where people push things overstepping their boundaries which can not be tolerated.

Organisations tend to produce complex solutions to complex problems – instead producing simpler rules is vastly more effective in both getting the desired result but also in keeping the speed of the organisation high.

To build a quick decision making organisation relationships are key – these are valuable both within your organisation but also with other organisations you work with. In the past a liason that you might put into another team might have been more of a spy for you or a junior individual for this to be valuable these liaisons need to be well networked, achieved and respected internally – they should add value by building relationships with people in both organisations and help the speed of information flow in both directions.

The book concludes with this definition of leaders in organisations

I understand the complexity of the environment. I understand that you must move faster than our structures allow for and that you understand your problems better than I ever could. I will create space for you to organically communicate and share information. I will empower you to make decisions and execute. I can help guide us on the path, but only you can win the war. I trust you to do that.

In response members must fulfill their equally important part

We understand that you’re building us the space to thrive but that it is ultimately our journey to take. We see you humbling yourself to the reality of the complex fight. We trust you to protect our ability to move with speed and adaptability. We will rise to the challenge and hold ourselves accountable to the outcome.