October 22, 2019 ~ 3 min read

Maintaining meeting focus with a to-address list

Weekly TipsSpeaking

There's a super common problem in meetings - meandering scope creep.

This is the situation where a 30 minute meeting to review progress turns into a 2 hour marathon going through everything that's wrong on a project.

This is also the situation that leads to people tearing out their hair and trying to avoid meetings at all costs.

And while there are many different tactics you can take to keep meetings on track, today I want to focus on one in particular:

Keeping a 'to-address' list, and using it religiously.

The source of scope creep

The reason that meetings tend to expand beyond expectations is that we think in interconnected ways.

One topic brings another to mind. One problem raises another. A discussion of a single feature quickly balloons into philosophical conversations about the place of that feature in the company's vision.

And because these interconnected issues are real, valid issues, we want to make sure they are addressed. We are afraid if we let them go, they will be forgotten and lost, so we tackle them right away. And issue after valid issue our meeting length grows and grows.

The solution to interconnected issues

The solution to this problem is to rigidly bound the scope of a meeting, and at the same time capture all interconnected issues that arise in a 'to-address' list.

Often-time these interconnected 'to-address' issues don't require a meeting to be resolved, they can be handled by a subset of people or even one person working alone, the only reason they land in a meeting is so they won't be forgotten.

By capturing each item as it comes up, you make sure it is not forgotten, but you also free yourself to keep the meeting moving and wrap it up on time.

Don't filter validity when capturing

One other key point when capturing your 'to-address' items - you don't want to be judging during a meeting which items are important or valid. This judgment process can hijack the meeting just as quickly as addressing the items in-line.

Instead, capture them all without valence: "Great, thanks for raising that point, let's capture it on our list to address".

After the meeting you can do prioritization, but trying to do so within the meeting will cause conflicts that derail your meeting.

With this tool, you can keep your meeting on track by only addressing items within scope. How to set that scope? That's another topic for another day. :)

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Kevin Ball

Hi, I'm Kevin Ball (alias KBall). I'm a software engineer turned trainer and coach focused on communication and leadership skills. You can follow me on Twitter, or check out my software-focused work at Zendev.com.