Tips For Running Productive Meetings

People who don’t work in game development might be surprised by how much time game developers spend in meetings. At most game companies I’ve worked at, I spend about half my time at my workstation and the other half in meetings on a typical day. Both are work, but if the meetings aren’t run well, people’s time are not used as productively as it could be.

Most development teams begin their day with a meeting to update everyone with the team’s progress on the previous day. Many of these teams have adopted the daily stand-up approach for these morning meetings. As conceived by the Scrum agile development methodology, these Daily Stand-ups are governed by the following rules to keep the meetings short and productive:

  • The meeting takes place at the same time and place very day.
  • The meeting starts precisely on the time even if some development team members are missing.
  • The length of the meeting is limited to 15 minutes, regardless of the number of team members participating.

Anyone is welcome to sit in on the meeting, but only team members may participate, and their participation is limited to answering these three questions:

  • What did I complete yesterday that contributed to the team meeting our immediate goal?
  • What do I plan to complete today to contribute to the team meeting our immediate goal?
  • Do I see any impediment that could prevent me or the team from meeting our immediate goal?

Nothing else (e.g., the upcoming company picnic, the movie you saw last night, the morning news) is to be discussed at the meeting, and any discussion of any impediments raised by team members should be held at a separate meeting of the affected individuals.  The daily stand-up should only be used to keep everyone apprised of the team’s current progress, plans and problems so that everyone can start the day’s work as soon as possible, but with the necessary information to be productive.

As for other meetings held throughout the day, the person running the meeting should have a clear idea of what the actual purpose of the meeting is.  Effective teams usually hold meetings to achieve one of the following purposes:

  • Kickoff Meeting: The meeting organizer gets a new project started on the right foot by sharing  the vision for the project’s goals with the participants and hopefully get them excited about working on the project.
  • Brainstorming Sessions: Meeting participants generate ideas for proposing new projects, creating content within existing projects, or solutions for problems.
  • Information Distribution: The meeting organizer shares information and news with the participants. This could be information about things like upcoming changes to the project, company news, or industry trends.
  • Planning: The participants must create a strategy for achieving a goal raised by the meeting organizer.
  • Decision Making: The participants must reach a decision on a matter raised by the meeting organizer.
  • Problem-Solving: The participants must find a solution for an issue raised by the meeting organizer.
  • Feedforward: This is a more lengthy meeting than the daily stand-up, where participants provide more detailed information on progress, challenges, and next steps.
  • Feedback: The participants provide reactions or assessments to a matter raised by the meeting organizer.  That matter could be some idea that’s under consideration, a recent project deliverable, how well the team is working together, or the state of the project itself.
  • Team-Building: Building and maintaining team harmony by allowing both the meeting organizer and participants  to discuss news, important or not, in a more formal setting.  Many companies hold such meetings at the end of the work week before everyone leave on the weekend.
  • Combination: Meetings to achieve two or more of the above purposes can be effective but only if well-managed by the meeting organizer.

After determining the purpose of a meeting, the organizer next choose who should be invited (or required) to participate in the meeting, how long the meeting should run, and when and where the meeting should take place.  Once all that is determined, the organizer writes a meeting agenda and distributes it to all participants prior to the meeting so that they will come prepared.

The organizer should begin the meeting with a short summary of the meeting’s purpose so that all participants understand what is expected from them, and during the meeting the organizer or another designated participant should keep notes on who attended the meeting, what was discussed, and what was decided.

However, even with meetings where the organizer is the one distributing information to the participants, the organizer should allow everyone to express their opinions about what was discussed so that they are not preoccupied with unvoiced concerns or opinions after the meeting is over.

In fact, the meeting organizer should try to read the expressions and body language of the people in the room to look for signs of someone who has something to say but doesn’t speak up in the meeting.  The organizer can then ask the participant to contribute during the meeting or in a more private follow-up meeting afterwards, depending on the situation.

Regardless, it is imperative that the organizer minimize any irrelevant or otherwise non-productive conversation, and keep the meeting to its predetermined time limit.

The meeting concludes with the organizer summarizing any decisions, solutions, proposals or any other action items that were determined as the result of the meeting, as well as who is responsible for carrying out those action items.  After the meeting is over, the organizer should send out any promised follow-up information or other resources to the participants, and follow up on how the action items and other next steps are progressing.  The organizer should also contact participants who didn’t get heard at the meeting or seemed dissatisfied with the meeting’s outcome.





My Winning Experience With Weight Loss Gamification

My name is David, and I have a weight problem. My eating habits are terrible. I ate fast food for just about every meal during the ten years I was single, and I still eat too much junk and fast food, and I have no self-control when it comes to desserts. Fortunately my metabolism is such that I have remained fairly health, although I’ve acquired a 35-pound “spare tire” since hitting middle-age.

I’ve been in denial about my weight until last week, when my wife finally convinced me to join Weight Watchers with her. The program is based on losing weight by creating a calorie deficit. Participants must monitor and control the portions of the foods they eat at each meal. No food is completely off limits, but while chicken, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables can be eaten in any amounts, foods containing beef, saturated fats and refined sugar are assigned point values, and participants are given a daily point limit plus a weekly set of extra points to use on days when you go over your daily limit.

With my height, weight goal, and exercise habits (I try to go on an hour-long walk every other day), I have a daily limit of 28 points and a weekly surplus of 43 points. How do those points related to the foods I eat. Well, a single egg (or a dozen, for that matter) is 0 points, but the ham and cheese omelette I made for breakfast this morning was 4 points (due to the small amount of milk, cheese, and ham I used to make it), while a serving of Eggs Benedict would be 20 points (due to the muffin and Hollandaise sauce). A McDonald’s Big Breakfast with Hotcakes is a whopping 46 points, and if I were to eat one, I would not only use up all of my 28 daily points, but eat into 15 of my weekly surplus points. Now, that would actually be okay, so long as I don’t exceed my weekly surplus with the rest of my week’s meals.

My wife signed me up with the Weight Watcher app that is used for keeping track of the foods I eat at each meal, the daily and weekly points I am consuming, and how they affect my weight. She knows that I like technology and thought I would enjoy losing weight this way, but that first night I had a nightmare about keeping track of numbers and not being able to eat all the foods I enjoy. However, when I woke up, I found myself totally and unreservedly committed to this diet. Apparently, the nightmare was my brains method of reorienting myself to a new way of eating.

I discovered my wife was right — I do enjoy it. But it’s not just the technology of using the app; it’s how Weight Watchers has gamified the process of losing weight. If you’ve read my previous articles about gamification, you’ll know that it is the process of applying game-like techniques to non-game activities such as training, education, and developing new habits.

Here is a breakdown of the gamification techniques used by the Weight Watchers app, using the Octalysis framework developed by gamification expert Yu-Kai Chou.

  • Development & Accomplishment: the internal drive of making progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges. Here, the challenge for me is to find ways to eat tasty food while not going over my assigned point limits, and my progress is measured by my weight measurements. I give myself quests of creating zero- or very-low-point meals to eat on days when I plan to go to a restaurant or party with very-high-point foods in the evening.
  • Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: the creative process of repeatedly figuring things out and trying different combinations.  This is put into practice in Weight Watchers by coming up with new recipes and meals involving low-point ingredients.
  • Ownership & Possession: the drive where users are motivated because they feel like they own something.  In using the app, I feel ownership over the data I collect about the food I eat, as well as by organizing that food into recipes, meals, and other collection sets.
  • Social Influence & Relatedness: all the social elements that drive people, including: mentorship, acceptance, social responses, companionship, as well as competition and envy. The Weight Watchers app fulfills this drive by allowing users to share recipes they’ve created and add the point values of grocery store items into the shared database.  The app also contains a social network where users can engage in discussions with each other to ask questions, share knowledge and receive encouragement.
  • Scarcity & Impatience: the desire to have something that’s in short supply.  Of course, the amount of points you have to spend on the food you consume each day is in short supply, and that makes making good eating choices seem all that more important and exciting.  Another app function based on this drive is essentially making an appointment with yourself to enter your food consumption and weight each day.
  • Unpredictability & Surprises: the excitement of surprises and desire to find out what will happen next.  The app fulfills the designer for novelty by including a bar code scanner to reveal the point value of grocery story items (which has me to go on scavenger hunts to find different varieties of foods with the lowest point value), as well as new recipes to discover.
  • Loss & Avoidance: the avoidance of something negative happening, which in this case would be regaining weight.
  • Epic Meaning & Calling: where players believe they are doing something greater than themselves or were “chosen” to do something.  In this case, my wife chose me to join this program with her, but more importantly, my becoming healthier is something that will benefit my entire family.  Additionally, because there are so many foods that are zero or low points, I can easily find tasty things to eat, making the program easy to get started with and me feel like a Weight Loss Hero from the beginning.

And so far, I do feel like a Weight Loss Hero because I managed to lose 7 pounds in my first week.  But will I be able to keep at it? I think so. The real game for me is finding the most satisfying foods with the lowest point values, and so far I feel that each day is a fun mission to find new meal combinations that are within my point limits.

While seeing my weight go down is a good extrinsic reward (because so far, for me it is just number — I don’t look or feel any different), the more powerful intrinsic reward so far has been in the desserts or other tasty high-point items I reward myself with at the end of the week with whatever weekly surplus points I have remaining.  What I like about this weight loss program is that I can eat anything so long as I plan for it– I just can’t eat everything whenever I want, and that’s okay with me.  It’s all part of the rules of the game.