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Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule

January 1, 2016

Recently I had a discussion with a developer about the number of meetings we're having nowadays within organizations. Part of it was related to Scrum, "Since the introduction of Scrum all I do is attend meetings". And part of it wasn't, "Every week I need to discuss how to improve the productivity of my department... canceling these type of meetings might be a good start..."

It reminded me of the classic article "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" written by Paul Graham.

Some of the highlights are:

  • There are two types of schedule, the manager's schedule, and the maker's schedule;
  • The manager's schedule is for bosses, they view time in hourly increments;
  • The maker's schedule is for e.g. programmers, writer, they view time in increments of half a day at least;
  • For manager's hourly increments are merely a practical problem, find an open slot in your schedule, book them and your done;
  • For someone operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each is too small to do anything in;
  • Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager's schedule, they're in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to.

I recommend reading the full article to grasp the entire context. The goal of the article isn't to blame meetings in general. As Jacob Aldridge puts it in a related article "Meetings are a valuable tool poorly applied. Blaming meetings for hours wasted is like blaming spoons for making you fat. " But life would be much easier if we would be aware of the differences between both types of schedule and are willing to compromise.

How I try to compromise

I used to operate on a manager's schedule. And sometimes I still do. Having a lot of meetings felt like being really productive. I know, it sounds sad. But nowadays I try to move more towards the maker's schedule. Not because I think the manager's schedule isn't appropriate, but because the maker's schedule suits my job as an Agile Coach and part-time writer more.

Some examples:

  • I try not to schedule any meetings until 10 am. This gives me plenty of time for writing (considering my day starts at 6 am), which I love to do in the morning;

  • I prefer not having any meetings at all on Friday. This is a guideline. Attending a daily Scrum, of course, isn't an issue, but in general, I would like to have some space in my agenda for reflection, scheduling the next week, administration, etc.

  • I try to have a few planned meetings as possible. This gives me the freedom and flexibility to observe and attend conversations I think are relevant.

  • I try to interrupt someone else’s schedule the least, hereby offering them the focus they need to handle complex tasks. As an Agile Coach I love to 'grab a cup of coffee' with someone. This can be a pitfall from the manager's schedule. I still value having a chat with someone, but nowadays I propose my intention to catch-up at the beginning of the day and ask what time suits him or her best.

  • I try to create batches for sharing knowledge. Not sending separate emails or interruption everyone continuously with new ideas but for example, organize a knowledge sharing session (e.g. a lunch) on a specific topic.

  • I share my weekly schedule with my team. This gives everyone the opportunity to plan necessary meetings/conversations upfront instead of doing this ad hoc.

How we all can compromise

Note: some of these examples are written from the perspective of Scrum teams. Of course, other perspectives might also be relevant, but this is the context I'm mostly part of.

  • Use "Do Not Disturb" time slots. During these time slots, the Development Team doesn't have any meetings and will only get disturbed (by someone outside the team) when it's really urgent. Sure, this shouldn't interfere with the intention of collaboration and transparent communication that the team wants to achieve, but a healthy balance with the aim of achieving the necessary focus should be a reasonable goal. A more positive description can be the use of "available for meetings" time slots.
  • Double check if the meeting is really necessary. Every meeting should have a clear purpose, if the purpose is missing consider cancelling the meeting.
  • Schedule meetings right after lunchtime. This interrupts the daily rhythm of everyone the least. Probably the worst time to have a meeting is 3 PM. As a 'maker' you can't really do anything else in the afternoon.
  • Makers above managers. The manager's schedule should be subject to the maker's schedule. Maker's need focus for problem solving or performing a specific complex task and are therefore less flexible with their schedule. Someone on a manager's schedule might need to do the same, but then they are used to a rhythm of multiple meetings during the day. This way, multitasking does less harm.
  • Not every meeting is meeting. For example, Scrum events aren't meetings but opportunities for a conversation. Tobias Mayer describes this perfectly in his book 'The Peoples Scrum': "Scrum is centered on people, and people have conversations. There are conversations to plan, align, and to reflect. We have these conversations at the appropriate times, and for the appropriate durations in order to inform our work. If we don't have these conversations, we won't know what we are doing (planning), we won't know where we are going (alignment), and we'll keep repeating the same mistakes (reflection)."
  • Stick to the prescribed time-box. Every meeting should have a time-box and this time-box should always be respected. This provides everyone focus and the time constraint increases creativity to have productive conversations within the given time. Sticking to the time-box, although the goal of the meeting hasn't been achieved, forces to team to find a solution for the next time. If you don't stick to the time-box, there isn't a sense of urgency to fix it.
  • Prepare the schedule for the every meeting upfront and ensure the goal is clear. Communicate the agenda early; this gives everyone the opportunity to prepare him-/herself properly. Also clarify what kind of preparation you expect, given the goal of the session. A well-prepared meeting significantly increases the chance of a focused and productive session.

As mentioned before, the intention of the article isn't to consider all meetings as evil. But it's useful to understand the differences between both types of schedules. Awareness and mutual understanding is a good start for improving the balance between the makers and manager's rhythm. In this blog post I've shared my thoughts on how I personally try to compromise and some tips on how we can all do this. If you've any other ideas I love to hear them!

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