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Best practices for the regular meeting with your boss
2010-07-17

As a UX team on my own I'm having a "department meeting" with my boss every 2 weeks to update him about my work and get input from him. Even if the meeting itself only lasts from 30 minutes to one hour, I've developed some best practices to save time and improve the overall efficiency of my meeting culture.
So I'll be writing about a few tips to consistently improve your career during a regular 1:1 meeting with your boss.

The surroundings

Your boss' head is full with other stuff, too, so he'll appreciate if you actively take care of the logistics. This includes:
  • Making sure you and your boss both know exactly when and where your meeting takes place.
  • Reserving a meeting room, a beamer, and whatever tools you may need during the meeting.
  • Providing an agenda accessible to your boss before the meeting, for the case he'd like to take a look at it, let's say, on the evening before, when he has some time left. (Talk to your boss about this topic. Maybe he really doesn't want to get informed earlier, or just has absolutely no time for that. It's OK. In this case, skip this step.) The agenda could be contained in an internal Wiki page or in some file you both can access and possibly edit.
  • Keeping it private. People who are not involved directly need no access to your agenda. You're not exposing your topics to the whole company and you're not making publicity with it, e.g. "Point 3 - Ask for a day off because I've worked so hard during the past weeks and I need to go to the [insert embarassing doctor's name here]".

Plan ahead

Keep track of your tasks to know at any time what you did and what you'll do in a defined time range. For this, your preparation for the SCRUM daily meeting can be a great help. I'll probably write about it in another post.

Be prepared!

  • Use a template. You can download my meeting template here.
  • Block time for your preparation depending on how your input will look like. I need about 10 minutes go through older tasks and to review new ones, and 10 minutes to write things down. I reserve a 30 minutes block of time, including a 10 minutes buffer. Those 30 minutes are a good investment.
  • Have thought about what you want to communicate, and how - regardless of the topic. E.g. "I want to say that I like the interaction with the remote developer team and I want it to sound positive." will have a different output result from "I want to say that I don't think the new process should stay in place and I want it to sound conviced and 'ready to change'".
  • Focus on the topics corresponding to the meeting's nature. For example, asking for a raise isn't a part of it, it requires a meeting on its own.
  • If you're the verbose and/or fuzzy type of person, knowing how to get your message across in a concise way will improve your image incredibly. Since this is not as easy as it sounds, you may exercise with a friend or go to a presentation training to get better at that.
  • Have all the materials you'll need at hand and organized. Order your printed screenshots, sort the files in your folder by date, etc. You may have to generate some more material especially for this meeting, e.g. overviews, combined images with annotations. It's worth it: your boss wants to get to the point quickly, not to be taken on a trip to the meanders of your design process.
  • Depending on the type of the files required for your meeting (multimedia, print, else), you'll have to make sure you can play sound, display movies or get a colored print. As many of us already experienced, a change in the media type always takes more time to handle. (The printed will strike at 13:58, you know it!)
  • Do you need the summary of your last meeting? If so, grab it and have a look at it.
  • Free your head enough to focus on the meeting's contents. You need to really "be there".

The paperwork

  • Print out your agenda. It's usually easier for two people to manipulate a pen and a piece of paper together and interact with it than to agree first on a topic and then dictate and type the outcome into a document on the computer.
  • Bring at least a working pen and some spare paper to draw schemes or share ideas.
  • Have a dedicated paper/note book/Moleskine (or whatever fits you) to take notes and write down to-dos for yourself. Enter information in a way that you'll be able to understand it later, the more the better.

The meeting itself

Detail from meeting
  • Be on time. Not "your" time, not the "I estimated you'd come a bit late" time. At least 5 minutes earlier. Period.
  • As a guideline, be serious, friendly and open-minded. The rest depends on your relation with your boss.
  • If needed, review the last meeting minutes together. Have you done what you intended to back then? Has he thought about providing you the information you needed? This works in both ways and it's possible that one of you missed to to his work, for some reason. Stay professional.
  • Take notes. Write down your next actions.
  • Better ask twice if you don't understand what your boss says. Don't let yourself go out of the meeting unsure.
  • Be aware of time passing by. In a time-boxed meeting, one of you may point out that you've got to hurry a bit to get through all the topics. You may want to arrange another (bigger) meeting for a specific topic.
  • Schedule the next meeting with your boss.

Afterwards

  1. Are you still writing down next actions while your boss rushes out of the room? Finish that task.
  2. Now your meeting is over. Take a deep breath.
  3. You'll need a variable amount of time for the follow up process, ideally beginning shortly after the meeting. Transform your notes into to-dos, set reminders, modify documents, organize appointements, plan time for the tasks, prepare how to delegate work, etc.
  4. Write down a meeting summary for the next time. Make it accessible to your boss.

Conclusion

So you see, the meeting with your boss is not only you sitting together and discussing. It requires preparation and has consequences. Once you've gone through those steps a few times, you'll have made a habit out of the procedure and your skills will improve.

What are YOUR tips for such a meeting?


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