Dr. Neil's Notes
General > Projects
Show and Tell and Ask
Show and Tell and Ask is the name of a meeting I organise with the project teams I work with. This note will explain why these meetings are worth doing, what happens in the meetings, and how to get the most from Show and Tell and Ask meetings.
A project that has well defined goals is more likely to succeed. At the very least you will know you have succeeded once the goal is reached, even in part. A team that is aligned on the goals of a project is more likely to reach those goals, than a team that has many different alignments. In all the projects I have ever been part of I try to get the entire team involved in the design, the testing, and of course the creation of the product. Getting everyone on the same page is often a hard thing to achieve. Everyone has a unique set of skills and experiences they bring to a project, and this will tend to lead to people specializing in aspects of the project. Maybe someone is really passionate about databases, and they are likely to gravitate to spend most of their time working on the database. Another team member might be great at user interface design, and spend most of their time designing beautiful user interfaces. This behaviour is normal and in many ways it is great if the project you are working on allows people to excel in their areas of passion.
However this siloed work tends to leave the rest of the team blind to what is happening in other parts of the project. This leads to a situation where the project is missing out on the opportunity for everyone to contribute their thoughts, ideas, and creativity to the whole project.
The Show and Tell and Ask meetings provide a forum to realign a team on the work being done by other members of the team. These meetings allow each member to contribute their ideas and ask for clarification on areas of the project.
During the meeting one member of the team will start by demonstrating, and presenting, the work they have been doing in the last few weeks, or months (depending on the scale of the project). This provides a chance for the other team members to get insight into the work being done by the presenter. This provides a way to understand the contributions being made by the person presenting in this meeting. The presentation should not be a PowerPoint Extravaganza, instead it is preferable to focus on the actual work done, either by demonstrating a functional component, or showing some other output of the work done. This provides a great chance for people to show pride in the work they are delivering. Sometime it is useful to have an image or animation to explain what is being presented, and in those scenarios a tool like PowerPoint makes sense, however often a whiteboard picture does the job, and provides a more interactive tool to tell a story and further explain parts of the work being done.
Something to note here is that not all teams are in a position to hold Show and Tell and Ask meetings throughout the project lifecycle. For example, there is no point in holding these meetings in very early stages of a project, when there is very little to show. Another example, is when a project is to maintain an existing product, the progress to show is usually fairly limited. Projects go through different cycles of productivity, planning, creativity, production (development or engineering), delivery, and support. This sort of meeting is most valuable during the creative and production stages of a project.
With intention, the meeting is not recorded. As most meetings are now happening online (eg on Microsoft Teams) it is very tempting to record meetings to review later, and so people can catch up if they missed the meeting. Being purposeful about not recording a meeting provides two positive outcomes; people are less afraid to ask a question they think might sound dumb, and people are more likely to participate if they cannot 'catch-up' later. The people I am talking about that want to 'catch-up' later tend to be the managers rather than the people doing the actual work. During the meeting someone (often I do this) should capture the points being raised and discussed. A free form note taking tool, like OneNote is ideal for this.
When holding a Show and Tell and Ask meeting it is good to keep the meeting focussed to a set time. I have found an hour to be a good length of time to achieve these meetings. The person presenting takes 15 to 20 minutes to Show and Tell the work they have been doing. Then the rest of the hour should be used to Ask questions, and solicit feedback on ideas and issues. This Ask part of the meeting is the most valuable part, make sure you do not fall into the trap of letting the presenter take most of the hour to Show and Tell. The presentation is the trigger to the conversation. The questions asked might start to stray from the topic presented, this is often fine. For example, when a team member sees the details of the work presented it might make them question the work they are doing, and how it fits in to the bigger picture. Perfect. This is exactly the sort of thing I am looking for in these meetings. The cross fertilization of ideas, the spreading of knowledge, and the discussion that flows is where you can start to find the gold in your project.
Most teams I have worked with do these meetings at the end of the week, on Friday afternoon. This provides a nice way to wrap up the week, and gives the person presenting the week to get things ready. However if you find the person presenting is spending a major part of the week getting things ready for the Friday presentation then you have an issue. This meeting is to show the work you are and have been doing, not build specific output for the presentation (see the one caveat to this in the outcomes below).
Once the meeting is over the person who was capturing notes should write up the points made in the meeting, along with any questions that remain unanswered. These meeting notes should be emailed to all the people that were invited to the meeting. While the meeting was not recorded as video and audio, this email acts as an important place to share the conversation and remind everyone of the topics raised. I normally send the email, summarizing the meeting, on the following Monday morning. This allows the team relax over the weekend, and reminds everyone of the meeting on Monday along with any actions or discussions raised.
There are a number of positive outcomes to gain from holding Show and Tell and Ask meetings:
Everyone in the team gets an improved understanding of what the other team members are doing, and how other parts of the project are progressing. This leads to greater team alignment.
Each team member is given an opportunity to ask questions, and make suggestions about each area of the product presented. This enables the combined skill set of the team contribute to the end result.
The product being created by the team gets hardened to demonstrations. It is a well known fact that things are most likely to break when you are demonstrating them, the more you demonstrate parts of the product, the more issues you find in front of (what I hope is) a friendly audience.
The team members each get better at presenting the product, and sharing their passions for the work they are delivering. Getting good at presenting is a skill that takes practice, this meeting provides practice. Having everyone in the team able to present various aspects of the project enables the project to be demonstrated more readily, without having to wait for one person to be available.
The product being created by the project becomes more presentable and the team gains experience showing aspects of the product to managers before it gets shown to customers.
Some team members will use the meeting as a forcing function to spike (prototype) ideas in order to demo some work a bit further along the road map than they currently are with production ready output. This has only positive side effects, as it provides an exploration with the team of an idea of how something might turn out.
Created: May 5, 2021 09:50:20