Attending the Right Meetings and Avoiding Unnecessary Ones

Anne, a young business analyst for a financial company in New York, arrived late for the meeting.  I had been at the company for two days of a week long engagement and had been attending meetings most of the time.  This was the third meeting that Anne and I both attended and the third time she showed up late, and this meeting was mine.  As is my tendency, I made no notice of Anne’s late arrival, nor of her fairly steady use of her Blackberry while the meeting progressed.

After the meeting, Anne sought me out to apologize.  She explained that in her role as business analyst she was in meetings all day, back to back to back.  She didn’t have time to get a cup of coffee or take care of other human needs.  So she tended to show up a few minutes late for various meetings and she wanted to let me know that it wasn’t personal.  I smiled and said I understood, and she felt compelled to continue, explaining that the constant meetings did not allow her the time to respond to the urgent emails and other tasks that were in her queue until after work at six o’clock.  She felt as though she had two jobs: meeting attendee and business analyst with the latter starting at dinner time every night. I asked if she ever got home for dinner.  Her response:  “rarely”.Railroad track zooming by

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation in the lives of business analysts. Many business analysts complain about being “meetinged to death”.  There are information gathering meetings, review sessions, status meetings, demonstrations and presentations, more status meetings, meetings about the last meeting and meetings to prepare for the next meeting.  Anne’s work life was out of control.

I suggested, somewhat facetiously, that she must be important to be included in all these meetings.  She denied her importance.  She said that her calendar just gets filled up with people including her on their meetings. When I asked, she said that she has the technical ability to decline attendance, but did not feel it was politically correct and, besides, it might be considered by some as shirking her duties as a business analyst.

And thus, many business analysts feel as though they are pulled in many directions by many constituencies: the development team needs the business analyst for advice, counsel and blame; the users need to be reassured and have a sounding board for their complaints and ideas; business management wants to make sure the product is being developed the way they expect and don’t feel the technical project manager will give them the straight scoop; upper level management leans on the business analyst for mediation and negotiation and information for decision making; and so it goes.  How can the business analyst say no?

I made a suggestion, one that has stood me in good stead.  I suggested she contact the moderator of the meeting and ask what her purpose would be in attending the meeting.  Ostensibly, she is checking to see if there is something she should bring with her, or a presentation she should be prepared to make, or any other activity that might be expected of her concerning the meeting.  When the moderator says “no, I just thought you might like to be there”, or “I invited everyone on the project mailing list”, she can ask if it’s all right if she skips the meeting and would the moderator be so kind as to provide her with the minutes, if they are kept and distributed.  I suggested to Anne that she might find herself freed from meetings where her attendance was less than mandatory.

That was Tuesday.  I saw her again in a meeting Thursday morning and she was on time.  “No meeting earlier?” I asked.  “No,” she replied. “I got out of it, and three others today. And two yesterday.  You know, it really works.  Most people just invite others to their meetings to prevent issues and because it’s politically correct. They don’t really care if you don’t attend. And I have so much I can get done instead of attending a meeting and pretending I’m interested while trying to not let anyone see me returning emails.”  This was fortunate because I really needed to hear some business analyst perspectives on the topic at hand in this particular meeting.

It’s your time. In the end you will be held accountable for what you do, not how many meetings you attend. Just because your name is on the list does not mean you have to attend.  If you have nothing to present, no particular constituency to represent, no immediate concern about the information being passed (you can wait and read the minutes), have nothing to offer in any decisions to be made, and don’t know why you are expected to be in the meeting, ask the moderator.  When the moderator confirms that there are no expectations of you other than attendance, ask to be excused.  Most likely, the moderator will be just as happy to have one less person in the meeting. Then you can use that available hour for more important activities, like getting that cup of coffee so you can be on time for the next meeting.

5 thoughts on “Attending the Right Meetings and Avoiding Unnecessary Ones”

  1. I have employed a similar strategy to Mark J. I block out time on my calendar for esssential non-meeting activities. I have found that if I am really needed at a meeting and I happen to be the only person who’s unavailable then the person scheduling the meeting will contact me. Then, if possible, I’ll consider rearranging my calendar.

  2. I found it best to be honest about your situation. I’ve already encountered a few meetings in which I asked about my need. If my target goals have already been reached and the meeting isn’t crucial to my next steps, I’ve simply asked to be excused. Communication up front is the best method.

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  5. Some great advice Steve, I think many readers will have experienced this problem. Another practical thing you can also do, especially if your company uses Outlook, is to block out time in your calendar for the documentation writing activities you need to do in a given week.
    It is amazing how many meeting invites people send with no agenda and hidden meaning in the title. I encourage all my BA’s to think about the purpose of the meeting, clearly articulate an agenda and invite only those who are necessary.

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