This will be different from my previous weeknotes, after a rather eventful week (but then again not much happened) I want to use this space and order some thoughts about the theme of good communication. As product managers in general, but particularly in the context of the German public sector, we need to communicate a lot so let’s get started.

(Good) Meetings = Structure for good communication

“Meetings slow down work, which almost always leads to more meetings” (Kill it with fire - Marianne Bellotti). There are many meetings, but rather few good ones. But what turns a meeting into a good meeting? Here are some things I learned over the years:

  • There is an explicit reason for it.
    • Every participant knows the purpose/goal of the meeting. Invite the right people!
    • In turn, this causes the participants to know how they can contribute.
    • As we are on it, a former colleague once said something that resonated with me: “informing or status updates are not meeting goals. These meetings should be rather an e-mail/slack/blog post.”
    • Tip: Formulate the goal as a question - it seems to clarify things.
  • There is an agenda beforehand.
    • If there is more than one reason for the meeting the agenda should include timeboxes (and the responsible persons) for each agenda point.
    • The meeting runs longer than 60minutes - don’t forget regular breaks!
    • In a perfect world, the agenda includes a check-in and a check-out.
    • Tip: If there are timeboxes make the role of the timekeeper explicit and have a visible time-timer.
  • There will be meeting notes.
    • As with the timekeeper, it is always important to have someone document the action items, next steps, or discussion points to follow up.
    • Writing good meeting notes is a priceless skill, something I am still learning.
    • Tip: Don’t let the moderator and note-taker be the same person!
  • There are materials shared ahead of time.
    • Do you schedule a meeting to decide something? Create materials to help people to come prepared.
    • Tip: Especially with “senior” participants it can be helpful to reserve some time to let them read through materials at the beginning of the meeting.
  • You are “just” the participant - come prepared!
    • Compare the first bullet - you are here for a reason. If you can’t figure that out beforehand, decline the meeting!
    • Tip: For example ask you these questions beforehand:
      • What is the reason for my participation in this meeting?
      • What outcome helps us to move forward?
      • What are the possible next steps?
      • What do others already know about the reason for the meeting?
      • How can I help?
  • Everyone shared their thoughts and a path forward is set? Good meetings end early!
    • Nobody ever complained about extra time in the day.

Do I get everything right every time? No, but I am trying - oh and a good meeting doesn’t stop with the “goodbye”. That is normally when the work begins, another reason why it is always advisable to have a personal meeting wrap-up right away. And one last tip, especially in the context of the public sector - if you feel like people get sidetracked in online meetings, start sharing your screen and take meeting notes - trust me, everyone will be back with you in no time.

Retros =  iterative, training grounds for good communication

If you are in some kind of design thinking, agile, or scrum bubble on Twitter or LinkedIn you probably are familiar with the following quote: “a good indicator of you and your team working agile/scrum/kanban is if you are doing retrospectives regularly”. I totally agree with the quote! Not reflecting on your ways of working leaves all the chances to learn and improve untouched. Why write about retrospectives when the topic is communication - I believe that you can learn a lot about communication by communicating. A retro is a regular event to help teams talk about stuff in a structured way. So leverage it and iteratively get better at communicating with each other. Oh and never, I repeat never, use retro items to try to push your personal agenda outside of the retro setting (I mean the Las Vegas Rule is there for a reason).

Working in the open = ground layer of (good) communication

As mentioned in my first weeknote - I sit down and write these to reflect but also to work in the open. Oftentimes it is surprising that so many people want to help or have tips and tricks - but to experience this you have to expose yourself to them. This is why working in the open is a great example of good communication. Much is written about how to do it, I would recommend taking a look into the agile comms handbook. Or just visit people writing weeknotes and blogposts trying to work in the open. To see the magic in action - this Twitter thread of one of our DigitalService access to justice products is a great example. The team got feedback and new interview/expert contacts just by showing the thing they are working on. One other effect of this communication method is that everyone is up to date on your thought process - that can also help when it comes to company strategic decisions.

That’s it for this week - I am happy to hear about your thoughts. At some point in the future, I want to expand these notes with some thoughts on how to better implement these practices in the public sector context as I believe that good communication is super valuable for everything you do.