There’s a fine art to running a productive meeting, keeping the discussion focused and scoping things tight to meet your scheduled finish time. Today’s consulting lines post is about keeping people happy while still finishing meetings on time.
Let’s join a troubleshooting session where I’ve been brought in to help a client whose AlwaysOn Availability Groups are failing over randomly in the middle of the day.
Me: “According to the network control panel, this server has two Ethernet ports, but only one of them is plugged in?”
Sarah the Sysadmin: “Yeah. All our physical servers are set up that way, and I’m not happy about it either. We’re going to be virtualizing these servers early next year, and I’ve got a preliminary plan for the networking switches that I can show you. I can just present one network card to the guest and do the teaming at the host layer, right?”
Me: “That’s a great question. I’m going to set up a section of the whiteboard over here called the Parking Lot, and I’m going to write that down.”
What That Line Does
It conveys that the question is indeed a good one, and you’re qualified to answer it, but that the answer is going to take more than a minute or two.
It also sets up a normal protocol that can help you through the rest of the meeting – and heck, even the client relationship. One of my long-term clients got so trained that when I walked into their conference room, they’d already white boarded out the day’s agenda ahead of time – and set up a parking lot with a few items!
If you’re working remotely, you can use a shared Google Drive document to track the meeting’s agenda, notes, resources, and parking lot. (Just be careful with the Google permissions – those get kinda tricky when you’re working with multiple clients.)
What Happens Next
Sarah: “But this will only take a minute – ”
Me: “Are you willing to virtualize those servers this weekend?”
Sarah: “Oh definitely not, we have to buy the hosts and – ”
Me: “Can we just leave the failover problems as-is, and wait for the virtualization replacements?”
Mark the Manager: “No, we need the failovers fixed now, like yesterday.”
Me: “OK, so here’s the deal. I definitely want to help you configure the virtualization project, and the answer involves sketching out whether you’re using iSCSI or not. My contract for today’s engagement depends on me solving this failover problem, so I kinda gotta focus on that for now. If I don’t fix this, the executives won’t pay my bill, and my wife is getting tired of ketchup sandwiches, ha ha ho ho. So let’s put this in the parking lot, and we can talk about it as soon as we’ve got the root cause of the failover identified. Is that fair?”
For more meeting tactics, check out my consulting lines.