Dealing with committees

If you work in a typical large IT enterprise, it’s very likely that there are one or more committees that frequently receive presentations from various people in the organizations. These can be some of the most painful meetings for an organization, or they can be some of the most productive. Here are some of my thoughts on how to keep them productive.

First, if you are a member of one of these committees, you need to understand your purpose. If you are part of the approval pipeline, then it should be clear. Your job is to approve or deny, period. If you can’t make that decision, then your job is tell the presenter what information they need to come back with so you can either approve or deny. Unfortunately, many committee members often forget this as they get caught up in the power that they wield. Rather than focusing on their job, they instead focus on pointing out all the things that the presenter did or did not do, regardless of whether those things have any impact on the decision.

Second, the committee should make things as clear as possible for the incoming presenters. I’ve had to endure my fair share of architecture and design reviews where my guidance was, “You need to have an architecture/design review.” At that point, the presenter is left playing a guessing game on what needs to be presented, and it’s likely to be wrong. Nobody likes being stuck in a meetings all day long, so give the people the information they need to ensure that your time in that weekly approval meeting is well spent.

From the perspective of the presenter, you need to know what you want from the committee, even if it should be obvious. As I’ve stated before, the committee members may have easily lost sight of what their job is, so as the presenter, it’s your job to remind them. Tell them up front that you’re looking for approval, looking for resources, looking for whatever. Then, at the end of your presentation, explicitly ask them for it. Make sure you leave enough time to do so. It’s your job to watch the clock and make sure you are able to get your question answered, even if it means cutting off questions. Obviously, you should recognize that there is some debate, and ask appropriately. In the typical approval scenario, you should walk out of the meeting with one of three possibilities:

  1. You receive approval and can proceed (make sure you have all the information you need to take the next step, such as the names of people that will be involved)
  2. You are denied.
  3. The decision is deferred. In this scenario, you must walk out of the meeting knowing exactly what information you need to bring back to the committee to get a decision at your next appearance. Otherwise, you’re at the risk of creating an endless circle of meeting appearances with no progress.

I hope you find these tidbits useful. They may seem obvious, but personally, I find them useful to revisit when I’m in either situation (reviewer or presenter).

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