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meeting cost calculator November 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes.
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And, on the heels of workpoop, we have the meeting cost calculator. Basically what this nifty little tool does is figure out, based upon the average salary of the attendees, how much a meeting is costing the company.

Try it next time.

cs_calculator

cc-licensed photo by Andy Melton

Here’s an example: in my old role, I was required to attend the morning planning meeting every day despite not being involved in any of the actual planning. I had to spend anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes there. (Let’s say 30 per day.) Also in attendance: two designers, two managers, one VP, an average of five photographers and/or videographers, an average of five photographer/videographer/writer/jack-of-all-trades people, the person who actually implemented what happened during morning planning, and one multimedia design specialist. That’s an average of 18 people a day locked in for 30 to 60 minutes (the designers, managers, and VP always stayed the full time) — again, we’re going with 30 — just to talk about the stuff we’re doing today and the stuff we did yesterday. Let’s say, if you average out the salaries, that each person makes $27.50 per hour. So, $27.50 * 0.5 * 260 (the number of weekdays in an average year) = $3,575 per year per person spent on the planning meeting. Multiply that by 15 (just to be generous) and you get $53,625.

Yes. That’s right. Almost another average person’s salary was spent on that morning planning meeting.

Double it, because they had another one in the afternoon as well which, fortunately, I didn’t have to attend. Also, the afternoon meeting was attended by people who make less money (generally), so let’s say $100,000 was spent a year on average on the two daily planning meetings. That’s three low-paid individuals’ salary.

Makes you a little more likely to want to try the meeting ticker, doesn’t it?

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because it made sense November 4, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Dilbert.com

Having been a contractor, I can totally identify with this. Contractors are generally brought on to complete projects that “regular” employees don’t have the time for because they have to attend scads of pointless meetings. In fact, my old boss got around this by attending all of the meetings for me — thereby getting me out of the twice-daily, hour-long “here’s what we’re doing” meetings and the two weekly sales meetings. I attended the marketing meetings, but beyond that, I just sat at my desk and did my job.

Which, you know, is what contractors do, because they don’t have to attend stupid meetings.

stupid people in large groups September 18, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Conference Call, Experiences, Meeting Minutes, Pictures.
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You’ve probably seen this:

You can purchase this poster at Despair.com.

You can purchase this poster at Despair.com.

And you’ve probably also heard this:

The IQ of a crowd is equal to the IQ of its least-intelligent member divided by the number of individuals in the crowd.

The same thing applies to any meeting you’re in — the smaller the group, the smarter it is, and there’ll be an equivalently-smaller number of stupid questions. But get into a large group…

Here are two notable examples from my own experience:

Weekly Technology Conference Call: At my previous job, one of my tasks was to sit in on (and occasionally contribute to) the weekly technology conference call where Dan, the head of the technology group, would let us know about updates and changes to our web apps and allow us to ask any questions we deemed necessary so we could disseminate that information to our employees. Good plan, right?

Nope. Because there were 20 of us on the call plus Dan, and it was always Roy in Salt Lake City who had to ask specific questions about how updates to TOM, our primary internal database app, would affect his customers in SLC. Complete with examples. And Roy had such a booming, deep voice that even though he would say “Dan, this is Roy in Utah” we all immediately (a) knew it was him and (b) tuned out for the next five minutes while Roy and Dan haggled over tiny points that were irrelevant to everyone else.

Mercury Meeting: Yesterday’s post about CorporateSpeak’s new Mercury system covers what happens in big meetings here at CS. Pretty much everyone starts asking stupider and stupider questions until one person asks the one smart question that shuts everyone up. I hate being that guy, but I usually have to do it.

Meanwhile, I’ve spoken before about how the derailer (ie: Roy) can be fought off. That only works in a small meeting, though; in a large meeting, people are afraid to gang up on the person asking stupid questions. It’s because of one of my favorite communication principles*, the spiral of silence:

The spiral of silence is a political science and mass communication theory propounded by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. The theory asserts that a person is less likely to voice an opinion on a topic if one feels that one is in the minority for fear of reprisal or isolation from the majority.

I should write a whole post about the spiral of silence. Maybe I will. But for now, just know that it will happen in every big meeting you’re in. No one will tell Roy to shut up — not even Dan, the meeting moderator. I wonder if my replacement at my old job is still tuning Roy out.

He** probably is.

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* In college, I wrote a paper about how it’s not actually a theory because theories must describe, explain, and predict, and the spiral of silence in and of itself does not explain — at least, if I remember correctly, that was my position. I got an A, so I must have either gotten it right or done a spectacular job of BSing the professor.

** I happen to know it’s a man, which is why I don’t use a gender-neutral assignation here.

pockets of time September 2, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Wasting Time.
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Yesterday I had a meeting scheduled to start at 2:00. I finished a small project at 1:45.

And there was nothing else on my list that was worth starting, editing, or continuing for 15 minutes before I had to go to the meeting.

I was reminded of this passage from “Still Around the Morning After”*:

“Kerry, is 8:30 all right?” Susan called from the living room.

“They don’t have anything earlier?”

“Nope.”

“That’s fine, then,” Kerry said. It meant they had about half an hour before they had to leave. Late reservations made strange little pockets of time: even if there were things she needed to be doing, if there was half an hour until she needed to leave, there was suddenly half an hour with nothing to do. She had bills to pay, journals to read. They could figure out where to put that rug that Susan had transplanted from her house. Or they could have sex. It was funny to have sex on the list of options, just another thing on the list of things to do with her time, even if usually it was by far the most attractive thing on that list.

Meetings that are about to start, or that start very late in the day, or that start half an hour after your day begins, or half an hour after lunch — basically any meeting that starts within half an hour of another planned event — tend to kill a chunk of your day that you could otherwise use productively.

It’s like this post about the Paul Graham article that discussed manager scheduling versus maker scheduling — managers can do meetings whenever they want, because they only exist to approve, disapprove, mete out punishment, and attend meetings. Those of us who design, develop, and create aren’t as good at structuring our days around the meeting schedules of others. When we’re in the zone, we’re in the zone — we don’t want to stop for anything. Conversely, when we’re not in a creative mood, we find other projects to work on or administrivia to… um… administrate? Administrivate?

Whatever.

Yesterday, my task list was pretty light. I had almost nothing to do that could be done in the time available. So I checked Facebook. I checked my e-mail. I blogged. I sat at my desk and waited.

And waited.

Those 15 minutes took forever to pass. Possibly even longer (subjectively) than the meeting.

It’s those little pockets of time…

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* The story contains explicit sex, and is fanfiction. Read at your own risk. And don’t judge me. It’s a good story.

You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve wanted to work that passage into a blog entry.

fighting the derailer… and winning July 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Project, The Two-Year-Old.
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We recently got a contract for a big company previously based in Washington State that is opening a local branch. They want a completely new website, and they’ve hired us to produce it. So this week I had a meeting with the clients, the Two-Year-Old, and one of our graphics design supervisors.

Don't derail! (Photo by Louise Docker)

Don't derail! (Photo by Louise Docker)

And, despite all efforts to the contrary, the meeting went well.

It started with Bill — the GDS — making notes on what the clients wanted their graphical presentations to look like on-line, in their TV spots, and even on their building (yes, we do that too). Bill’s job is to translate client demand into something our artists can understand, and he’s very good at that and pretty much everything else he does except managing actual employees*. Bill did his part and then had to leave to work on some other, more pressing projects (this particular one isn’t due until August 31, I think).

So it was me, the Two-Year-Old (“2“), and Mack and Hope from the client company.

The meeting started promisingly; I took control of it from 2 to offer Mack and Hope a look at other designs I’ve done for clients, stressing that these were just examples and I could do pretty much whatever they wanted within their corporate specs**. They picked a design to start from, one with clearly-defined boxes “floating” on the background color of the site, because they liked the bite-size-ness of it. (It’s one of my favorite designs, but I think they picked it because it was so different from the other standard designs I showed them.) I’m not sure 2 liked it, but that’s okay, because it’s the client who has to be happy, not 2.

2 has this thing where everything has to have her stamp on it in some way — that is, she tends to take control of meetings, both internal and client, and impose her ideas upon them. She did it with the graphics even though Hope, the client’s marketing manager, had her own plan for the graphics. It turned out to be about a 60/40 compromise in Hope’s favor.

That’s when I knew I had to side with the clients, even if they made unreasonable demands — 2 has a habit of trying to do too much that clients neither want nor need and only agree because she’s so insistent.

Fortunately, Mack — the client’s local operations manager — is more like me, and Hope is even more like me than Mack is. They came in wanting streaming video, a CMS, several forms, two or three Flash animations, and incorporation into the rest of their corporate site***. 2, standing at our whiteboard, started drawing and writing textual cues for customers.

And to her not-very-well-hidden dismay, almost every suggestion I made was accepted by Mack and Hope even as she gave her “yes, well, how about this way instead”. I had already figured out via research what the clients wanted and was providing them not only what they wanted but giving them the opportunity to expand as needed. 2, by contrast, was giving them what she thought they liked. Thing is, 2 is a manager; she doesn’t deal directly with clients the same way I do, and as someone who’s been doing this as long as I have, I’m really good at divining what clients want and delivering products that go just beyond that.

Throughout the whole meeting, 2 kept trying to derail what the clients wanted and the three of us — Mack, Hope, and me — kept pulling her back on track. Honestly, I think the meeting would’ve gone better without her there, but I didn’t have that authority. In the end, we all separated amiably and Hope promised to stay in touch with me and back me up on any unreasonable changes that 2 might try to force through as we build out their digital business. That’s reassuring. I know she’ll probably not be as supportive as I might like when push comes to shove, but she’s made it clear that she sees what 2 was trying to do and appreciates it as little as I do.

Sometimes meetings get derailed. Sometimes you fight the derailer and lose.

At that meeting, we fought her and won. And it felt good.

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* Well, you can’t be good at everything, right? Unfortunately his lack of good management of people tends to make my life difficult.

** Their corporate office had e-mailed the official “you can do what you want as long as you also do this, this, and this” document to me last week. It’s surprisingly short.

*** Their Washington office works with our Washington office, which is fortunate because now I have code to copy, thereby saving me time.

“exciting concept” June 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Definition, Economic Downturn, Meeting Minutes.
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exciting concept
ex-SY-ting CON-sept

Layoffs are everywhere. Companies are cutting budgets and cutting services. Employees are doing more with less, and for less money as it becomes clear pay cuts are going to be necessary to even approach the black. And yet you’re still being asked, time and time again, to do new things at work, to add new tasks that you know in your heart will be the business equivalent of vaporware.

And the worst kind of vaporware is something that starts out as an exciting concept.

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Exciting concepts tend to begin in conference rooms at the corporate office, where several suited employees gather together and try to come up with something that will cost no money but somehow bring in revenue while also virally infecting the internet. These suited employees have been on the corporate payroll so long that they’ve forgotten actual non-suited employees have to somehow make these concepts come to life.

So they sit around, often for days at a time, until a great idea (likely suggested by a non-suited employee three or more months ago) suddenly strikes. They come up with dozens of ways it can go viral and be huge on Facebook or Twitter, and then they lay it all out and order it to occur.

And y’know what? Some of them aren’t half-bad ideas. The problem is that there’s never support for an exciting concept. There’s no extra money in the budget; there’s no extra people to work on it; there’s no possible way that the job can be done by current employees without being slammed shoddily together at the last minute, as so many things are. Then management puts a polish on it and goes back to corporate and says “hey, look how great we did with your exciting concept!”

That only leads to one thing: more exciting concepts coming right down on your head.

Exciting.

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things discussed at meetings May 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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This is slightly less accurate than I’d like; 75% of the red space should be “assigning make-work to the one person in the company who actually does anything useful”. That’s usually me.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

the nodder April 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Staff.
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The Nodder. No, this isn’t about a person who sleeps through meetings. This is about the person who knows the secret to making it seem like he’s actually paying attention to the meeting.

It’s all about looking interested. Or, as That Guy said in Future Stock, “it’s all… about… appearances.” The Nodder listens with half an ear, perhaps thinking about his kids, or his hobbies, or how much work is piling up while he sits in this meeting and lends half an ear. Every now and then, he nods, says “mmhmm” softly, or engages in some combination of the two. Perhaps he leans forward a bit. Perhaps he leans back a bit. He might scribble something down in his notebook, but no one knows what it is. (It might even be relevant.)

And he does what so many other people don’t when they tune out: he stays aware enough to actually offer suggestions now and then, thus confirming that he is indeed paying attention. At least, he’s confirming it to the meeting leaders. Who, by the way, he addresses by name. You’ll notice he’s the only one who does so.

At the end of the meeting, the Nodder simply goes his merry way, either to his next meeting or back to his desk to nod some more.

It will drive you crazy. Not necessarily because of the nodding and the “mmhmm”ing — which, make no mistake about it, will get on your nerves — but because you didn’t think of it first.

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board at work February 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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Song Chart Memes
more music charts

Blackboards, whiteboards, overhead projectors, and now smartboards… they’re all used to alleviate boredom. In the old days, it was all about drawing, but now that presentation systems (smartboards) are being used more frequently, it’s all about watching people make fools of themselves trying to get the system to work right.

You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a co-worker press the “onscreen keyboard” button on the smartboard, then stood in front of the board (that is, between the projector and the board), trying to do the smartboard keyboard dance while keeping his/her shadow out of the line of sight.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #15 January 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Tips for Corporate Success.
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There’s no reason to show up for a meeting or conference call early, or even on time. No meeting or call starts until five minutes after it’s supposed to.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who show up early and those who show up late. For a long time, I was an early person — I got to the bus stop early in school, I got to class early in college, I got to work early in my career, and whenever I’m supposed to meet my friends somewhere, I’m early too.

CC-licensed photo by Emery Co. Photo

CC-licensed photo by Emery Co. Photo

But so few people are early people. Most of them are late. And as a result, something that could legitimately be punished in school by detentions, grades, demerits, or being grounded (late for curfew) has become the norm. I’ve got a post developing in my head about the only way to control behavior is to use negative reinforcement, but for now let me just say that the reason we all showed up on time in school and college was because there was a risk of getting in trouble. We still show up to work around the right time — more so if we work where there’s a punch-clock — but if you work in an office, what’s the point? As long as you get in before your boss, who cares?

Once you’re at work, though, time is relative. Is your project finished early? Don’t hand it in because people will expect you to finish things sooner. Are you able to get to that meeting before it starts? That must mean you don’t have enough work to do. No, the safe play is to show up just after the start time. There’ll still be chairs available, and the meeting organizer has been trained to expect at least a quarter of the participants to arrive after the meeting has already started. And of course the organizer will be glad to start over twice — once for the stragglers, and once because the meeting has to be stopped to deal with someone else’s problem.

Been on a conference call lately? What’s the first thing the leader says? “Let’s give everyone five more minutes to get here before we start.” Possibly the twelve most irritating words to people stuck on conference calls. You can’t do anything in five minutes except maybe go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee. Just don’t try to brew a new pot — better to drink the acidic sludge someone made at 8:30 than be late and have to start everything over.

The concept of meetings starting late has been so ingrained into the corporate culture that most employees and managers now consider a meeting’s official start time to actually be five minutes late — if you set the meeting for 2:00, mentally everyone thinks “2:05 is fine”. Then they show up later. And later. And later. And pretty soon you’re blocking out well more than an hour to do something that should take no more than thirty minutes, just to make sure everyone shows up and takes away the information they need.

So just stop showing up on time. No one else will bother; why should you?

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