Case Study: Global Software Company Uses Instant Agenda to Support Agile Transformation

Background

The international company develops integrated solutions and software for the transportation infrastructure industry, with both governmental and some private-sector clients. By early 2016 the company had grown to over 500 employees and was beginning to feel the strain of rapid growth.

To better handle their scale the company implemented more disciplined Agile practices including Scrum, XP and Kanban. Agile had started years earlier among some R&D teams, but was spread to other divisions during this timeframe including marketing, sales and leadership. The Agile transformation resulted in better predictability and productivity, but the company began to struggle with collaboration and alignment, particularly above the team level.

The Problem

While Agile methods were considered successful, the transformation had an unintended consequence. Teams were acting more independently, but ensuring alignment among them was resulting in more meetings among management and between teams and departments. Many managers were reporting “meeting overload”, and there was a general feeling that people were meeting more but getting less done. This prompted the company to look into their meeting practices (lead by one person from the HR team and one from product management).

First, the company found that many meetings were a “free for all”, often scheduled haphazardly without communicating a purpose or agenda. In several cases, one group didn’t know that another group was meeting on similar topics, resulting in double-work.

Second, while meetings were generally collaborative, execution was chaotic. The quality of execution depended largely on who was running the meeting. In most meetings no attempt was made to facilitate the meeting or move in an orderly way through a prepared agenda of topics or activities.

Third, communication of meeting decisions or actions was largely non-existent or word of mouth. In some cases spreadsheets or Microsoft Word documents were used to create agendas or notes, but there was no consistency of approach.

The Solution

While researching solutions to the problem, the company’s VP of Product was referred to Instant Agenda by a colleague. He found the premise compelling enough to try it out in his bi-weekly product leadership meeting. The 90-minute meeting consisted of 3 product managers and 10 team product owners meeting to discuss major problems and issues affecting a product line.

“There was better prioritization, more focused discussion and the group was able to end their meeting 20 minutes before the scheduled time.”
He reported that the whole dynamic of the meeting changed after the first use of Instant Agenda. There was better prioritization, more focused discussion and the group was able to end their meeting 20 minutes before the scheduled time. One of the product managers found so much value in that initial meeting that she adopted the tool for some of her meetings as well. Within a few weeks, the entire product organization was using Instant Agenda in varying degrees.

The product spread organically throughout the organization over the next several months. When interviewed, several managers reported that their meetings felt dramatically more productive using Instant Agenda. They also reported being able to cancel some meetings in advance because there was nothing to discuss, which was an unexpected surprise. One senior manager stated, “my team was reluctant at first because they thought the tool would lead to more meetings. But, we’ve found that the opposite is true. If there are no agenda items in our Instant Agenda queue, we simply cancel the meeting and devote that time to individual work. The team is happier and more engaged knowing their time is respected.”

The Results

To measure their progress, the company asked that employees complete a survey before and several months after implementing Instant Agenda. This allowed them to determine whether or not progress was being made to correct their problem with wasteful meetings.

The initial survey consisted of 6 questions and was completed by 104 individuals. The follow up survey was sent to the same 104 individuals, of which 93 responded. The survey asked questions about meeting behavior, and respondents answered on a 5-point scale representing how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement.

The results of the survey indicated across-the-board improvement after adopting Instant Agenda. 

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