Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meetings v/s Mailing Lists

Some companies have a meeting oriented culture. They summon a meeting to solve each and every problem, however simple the problem may be. A meeting for designing a database table, a meeting for reviewing code, a meeting for clarifying a story, a meeting for getting extra RAM in your computer etc. If you try to measure the amount of time spent by employees in meetings per week, it might surprise you. Meetings are an inefficient way of discussing a topic. I prefer to discuss issues via mailing lists over calling for meetings. I and a friend of mine - Ken Weiner came up with the following advantages of mailing lists:
  • Mailing lists are more productive, people don't have to repeat what they said as they get enough time to digest it.
  • Email keeps track of the entire conversation. Some wikis such as Confluence also have a way of archiving a mailing list to make it searchable.
  • Every person gets enough time to read the email and respond to it. In a meeting, one might not get enough time to respond.
  • In multi-location environments, mailing lists are the best ways to keep everybody informed about everything. That's how the entire open source development works. Video conference / conference calls may not be feasible every time.
  • Attending a meeting consists of higher context switching. You might be in your best productive time and you have to drop everything to attend a meeting. I personally hate to do that.
  • In meetings some personalities can overpower others because of their voice, posture or even position etc. Mailing list avoid such overpowering.
  • Sometimes uninterested parties attend meetings for the sake of attending. Discussing a topic on mailing list can certainly avoid this. The uninterested person can simply delete the email by looking at the subject.
Try to discuss as much as possible on mailing lists instead of calling for a meeting. Mailing lists can serve as an excellent reference for future. Some collaboration tools such as CollabNet can even capture emails sent with an issue number in the subject as a comment to the issue. Tools such as Crucible will help you in doing efficient code reviews. Wikis can help you discussing a topic as well as archiving a mailing list. As soon as you start your Scrum project, you should setup a mailing list for all the stakeholders. You will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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