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Insights / May 9, 2018

How to Make a 4-Hour Meeting Fun

How to make a 4-hour strategy meeting fun

By Colleen Powers

Having a four-hour meeting pop up on your calendar might sound like a workplace nightmare. Four hours sitting around the same table with the same people, talking about the same project?

Lately, though, we’ve been scheduling more of these half-day sessions with our software development clients, using them to dig into product strategy and explore ideas. It turns out that when we involve everyone in imagining what we could create, the hours fly by — with tangible results we can use to start building a new product.

Here’s how we keep four-hour meetings from feeling like a slog:

Stay rooted in purpose.

We start each strategy session with the question, “Why are we here?” The answer is never “to build an app” or “to redesign this website,” but statements like “helping people plan for the future” or “empowering people to ask the right questions.” That helps us connect to the mission of the organization and the ultimate purpose of what we’re developing.

Imagine the goal together.

An activity we often do early on is to have everyone around the table list adjectives to describe the planned application or website. Collecting words like “friendly,” “authoritative,” or “simple” help us get excited about a shared vision.

Get out the markers and draw.

Asking adults to draw can be anxiety-inducing, but the Crazy 8s design sprint is about getting ideas down on paper quickly, not showing off artistic prowess. This activity from Google asks each participant to fold a piece of paper into 8 sections and then draw 8 sketches of features they recommend for the product — one minute for each sketch, one right after the other. Then each participant takes turns explaining their sketches. For example, one person might suggest a chat function in the application, while someone else might suggest a tracker to visualize progress towards a goal. Finally, the group uses stickers to vote on their favorite ideas.

Crazy 8s is a light, engaging way to open up a bunch of ideas and possibilities. It allows everyone in the room to contribute to a list of product features, which the group can then narrow down.

Put yourself in your users’ shoes.

Brainstorming product features is fun, but to narrow in on what’s essential, we have to think about the product from the perspective of the people who will use it.

Once everyone has started thinking about features through the Crazy 8s activity, it’s time to start compiling the full list of required features. For this, we use story writing. Participants spend time individually writing stories on notecards using the format “As a [role], I want to [do something] so I can [accomplish a task].”

As everyone shares the stories they wrote with the full group, we organize them into categories, grouping related features. Then we sort all of the stories into three buckets: must, should, and could. The “must” stories becomes our to-do list for development, our list of features necessary to create the minimum viable product, or MVP.

Leave with a promise to share updates quickly.

What makes this four-hour meeting fun is that it’s hands-on and collaborative. We don’t come up with an elaborate pitch; we brainstorm and discuss ideas together with the client team.

That also means that the four-hour meeting has momentum — we know that what we’re creating will lead directly into software development, whether we start working on the product right away or hand off the features list for the client to decide what to do next.

If Software for Good does start on development, we’ll continue to work closely with our client for constant feedback and iteration. So after sitting through a four-hour meeting, no one has to wonder whether the discussion and ideas will go nowhere; instead, there’s a concrete view of what comes next.

By keeping the purpose and the end goal in mind, plus staying active and creative, we’ve been able to make meetings fun — yes, even for four hours.