Meaningful meetings: management meets and tech alignment
A blog about meetings and their structure might seem like the least appealing piece of writing you’ve seen all day… But these two meeting formats will help project managers bridge the gap between business and tech.
Meetings are generally seen as a necessary evil — trust me, we get it. But if you work as a Client Service Manager, or a Project Manager, or anything of the sort, you can make the time you spend in meetings a great investment.
So, we won’t bore you with some textbook advice on how to do meetings. Instead, let us give you the very practical rundown of two new meeting formats we have installed on the client’s side: the management meeting and the technical alignment meeting.
These meetings have helped us improve the partnerships between our client and the Client Service Manager, break down silos on both our and the client’s end, and unify the business, technical and strategic perspectives on building a product and a roadmap.
Why oh why?
A while ago, we already wrote about the importance of having an efficient meeting structure. We described how we apply those rules to our own way of working, but they also – and in equal measure – apply to the way we engage with our clients.
That’s the operational setup of our meetings – but we also wanted to have a look at the strategic goals of our client-side meetings.
We defined a new meeting structure based on two main goals.
Firstly, at November Five, we pride ourselves on our company culture. To us, shaping, building and sustaining our digital products and services is not a platitude, it’s a mantra. However, this raises the question: is that mentality ingrained in every process? And more particularly, in the meetings we have with our clients?
This consistency in culture and processes is of key importance if we want to “live and breathe” by our values.
Second, we had an external argument to create the new client side meeting structure. In an article in The International Journal of Project Management (n°35, 2017), Dong-Gil Ko and Laurie Kirsch write about the rise of project/product managers with a hybrid profile. They describe this new breed of PMs as having “one foot in the IT domain and the other foot in the business domain – ready to deal with a diversity of paradoxes and contradictory demands associated with business and technical uncertainties.”
In our opinion, they make a great point! As PMs or CSMs, we are now operating in a far more complex world in which we need to be able to balance two very different universes: technology and business.
So, to properly perform that balancing act, we need to be informed, up-to-date and knowledgeable on both sides of the fence.
To achieve these goals, we defined two types of meeting: the tech alignment meeting, and the management meeting. Let’s dive into the details for both…
The tech alignment meeting
Open, transparent communication is key to a strong relationship with our clients. A classic approach is to make one person the single point of contact: this makes communication straightforward. Within November Five, this role is filled by our Client Service Managers (CSMs).
Unfortunately, there is also a major drawback: having a single point of contact can create silos.
We find that it’s better for the product to break down the barriers between the developers on the client side and our own. We want to facilitate one technical team working on the product in the same way that we want to facilitate one management team working on the product in the management meetings.
This is why we organise technical alignment meetings. They form a platform where several tech-related topics can be discussed. The main goals of this meeting are to:
- Bridge the gap between November Five development teams and third-party developers (cutting out the middleman)
- Align on technical dependencies for ongoing and upcoming projects
- Align on scheduling dependencies for ongoing and upcoming projects
- Create a forum for improvements to the products
- Create a forum to present new technology that could possibly impact the product
- Share technical knowledge and expertise
To achieve these goals, we invite people with a variety of profiles and skillsets. At least, we always try to include the following profiles:
- A delivery manager: responsible for the planning of releases (of products and services)
- A project manager: responsible for the dependencies in order to deliver the product
- A technical lead (for a service or a platform): responsible for the architecture of the product/service
- A client service manager: responsible for the agenda of the meeting, aligning between the different stakeholders and following up on the to do’s so the product keeps on improving (beyond the project level)
It’s important to note the client service manager is in the lead of this meeting, making him/her a driver throughout the technical process of defining a digital product. As we’ll discuss later, this technical knowledge has a positive impact on the product roadmap and thus the end product.
After having tried out these meetings, we already implemented some learnings that have improved our efficiency:
Bring along code samples You’re talking to developers, so you want to make sure you speak their language. Don’t shy away from providing code samples or examples from issues you have found. Demonstrate the response of an actual call going wrong so you can immediately diagnose an issue.
Demo new technology A wise man in our office always proclaims: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” And that also applies to new tech. There is no point in providing 30 odd slides. Provide bèta or staging builds where the developers can fiddle with in order to demonstrate a product’s pro’s and con’s.
Pre-define the time spent on each topic Be strict with your time management. If a topic starts to derail or take longer than expected, put it aside for a different meeting.
The management meeting
This meeting is where it all comes together. It’s where November Five thrives. During these monthly or bi-monthly meetings, all key stakeholders are assembled to discuss shaping, building and sustaining their digital product(s).
The main purpose of this meeting is to evaluate the collaboration between the two parties and to discuss the roadmap of the products we maintain, from a strategic, technical and business perspective.
Once again, the client service manager is in the driver seat. The main goals of this meeting are to:
- Report back on the roadmap that was covered between the previous management meeting and this one
- Present the outcome from the tech alignment
- Present the roadmap for the next month and tie it back to the original product strategy
- Discuss project in the pipeline (long term)
- Retrospective on the partnership
- Create a forum for improvements to the products
We have become experienced at conducting this type of meeting. And although we believe nothing is perfect and we can always keep on learning, we already want to share some pointers that apply to the management meeting specifically:
Put the work that has been performed on display We go above and beyond for our clients. This means it’s crucial to present the results of that drive. In this meeting, we present the products, releases, designs reportings etc. each of the teams has produced for the client.
Be concise and to the point Yes, we want to present our work, but there’s no point in presenting it all. There won’t be enough time to discuss it all. The main focus has to be on defining the roadmap. We limit ourselves to those insights that enrich the roadmap discussion and contribute to our vision on building a digital product.
Remember those goals?
While both the tech alignment and management meetings are a crucial part of the puzzle, the management meeting is the best example of the way our meeting structure facilitates our two goals (the November Five approach + the hybrid CSM).
The management meeting is a hotbed for product development in its broad sense.
- The November Five approach: we want to make sure we can guarantee an end-to-end(less) cycle of product improvement. This requires a sound strategy, an architecturally well-considered product, efficient and qualitative development, and finally a strong monitoring and support approach. During the management meeting these insights from each of those steps are presented and translated to user stories.
- The Hybrid CSM: during the management meeting, the CSM has to live up to his/her hybrid role. He/she has to define the roadmap with respect to the ideal balance between technical input, strategical impact and the business requirements.
Ultimately these meetings should result in the most optimal client/November Five relationship we can create. A partnership where both of us can shine and where each barrier has been brought down in order to construct a veritable partnership.