Gunnebo Business Solutions AB is working on establishing an international, dynamic and enthusiastic software development team who will build sophisticated security and business applications. Within the new organization, customer support and operations plays a vital role.
To be able to effectively help our customers, we are implementing and improving our routines around the support process. We have started our journey with ITIL version 4 and DevOps, but lately an article from Holocracy regarding “Tactical Meetings” caught my eye. Tactical meetings are held regularly, on a weekly basis, with the intention of removing any obstacles that may arise preventing the team from achieving their goals for that cycle (the duration between 2 meetings), or to update the rest of the team as to what is going on with the task assigned to a team member.
Tactical Meeting Procedure and Expectations
Tactical meetings are usually kept short and on point. These meetings usually can be divided into five main parts, they are namely “Check-in”, “Checklist, Metrics, Project Updates”, “Agenda Building”, “Triaging Issues” and finally the “Closing Round”.
- Check-in Phase: This phase is basically sort of a get to know your team member phase, here team members are given a little time to talk about how they are doing or feel free to express how they are feeling at that moment (maybe they were feeling little blue at that moment or rejoicing about something special, or maybe they were just not themselves), just so that the other members would know where that member was coming from.
- Checklist, Metrics, Project Updates Phase: Here the team members are given the opportunity to provide the rest of the team with some context about the issues they are facing with regards to the task they were assigned. The other team members are also encouraged to either ask the member questions or may save them for a later time in the meeting.
- Agenda Building Phase: At this point, the facilitator (the person chairing the meeting, who is usually the team leader or a supervisor or someone from the management) would go ask the members to let him/her know of the problems they are facing. These problems are known as “Tensions”. Here the team member would either give a short phrase describing the tension or if they do not have any tensions, they could just say pass.
- Triaging Issues Phase: This is the point where the team is allowed to discuss the issues they are facing in detail and try and come up with solutions to the tensions, keeping in mind any limitation that may arise in completing the task from the side of the team member who is facing the tension. The facilitator also plays a larger role here in keeping the topic on point and not letting the discussions to get derailed at any point. He / She can also add possible tensions that may arise from implementing the solutions into the agenda. But, once tension is crossed off the list, it cannot be revisited for that meeting.
- Closing Round Phase: This is very similar to that of the check-in phase, but here the team members would deliberate on how they feel about the solutions that they have come up with, and whether or not they are happy with it.
The process of an Efficient Tactical Meeting
The efficiency of a tactical meeting depends largely on the shoulders of the facilitator. An efficient facilitator would use a few tricks to keep the meetings short and on point. Here are some key tricks that a facilitator would need to use in order to achieve high levels of efficiency.
Recap from the previous cycle
Here the facilitator would go around the table, asking each member to present any updates from the solution(s) to the tension(s) they faced at the previous meeting. At this point, a good facilitator would have a checklist of the tensions and their solutions from the previous cycle and cross them off after they are resolved. Here the team members are also allowed to request to add items to the checklist as long as it is in keeping with the solution to the tension as well as accepted as a valid point for the solution by the other team members.
Keeping up with the time
This is when the facilitator allocates a certain amount of time for each task. For example, while building the agenda, the facilitator would ask the members to keep their tensions short and sweet, and sometimes even ask them to use one or two words to describe their tension, as these tensions can be elaborated in the triaging phase, it is not particularly necessary for everyone to understand the tension at this point. However, when it comes to the triaging phase, it is important that the facilitator finds a balance between allocating enough time for each tension in the agenda as well as being able to keep the meeting moving forward. Here it is considered good practice to not discuss minor issues (especially when considering technical support issues) in depth, but to find quick solutions and move to the next tension.
Processing the Tensions
This is the most important part of the role of a facilitator. Here the facilitator would ask the team member what their tension is, and then ask them what they need. The team member would then give a quick description of their tension and then give the team the solution to his/her tension or engage the other members of the team to come up with a fruitful solution. These tensions would be captured by the secretary and also the solution for the tension that was accepted by the team member. This would help the facilitator in the next cycle meeting when they recap the previous cycle. Finally, the facilitator would ask the member if they are happy with the solution, and if they are, move on to the next tension.
Tasks of a Facilitator
- While most of the tensions in a technical support framework are quite straightforward, there are instances where the solution would require multiple steps to achieve the solution. Since these tactical meetings are set frequently, there may not always be time to complete all the steps required to achieve the solution. Hence, the facilitator would ask the team member for a “Next Action”, this is quite literally, what the team member wants to do next to achieve the solution to his/her tension. This could also be helpful to the facilitator to keep track of the checklist for the next cycles recap phase.
- In cases where there is only one step, or is at the final step, the facilitator could also ask for the outcome of the project. A “Project” is a solution with a definite endpoint.
- The facilitator can also ask team members to share information on tensions where there may not be an immediate solution.
- In the case of where a member does not know how to express their tension(s), the facilitator could also either ask the team members to address the tension or even offer a possible pathway for the team member to address it by him/her self.
- Another important task for the facilitator would be to make sure that only one tension is being discussed at one point. There may be instances where another team member would want to discuss a related or similar tension to that of which is being discussed. At this point the facilitator is required to refocus the team’s attention to the tension and hand, to ensure the meeting is efficient.
- In cases where the teams come up with multiple solutions to the same tension, it is the job of the facilitator to urge the team to come up with a consensus as to what is the better solution. If the team member with the tension is not sure whether he/she would be able to achieve the solution, they can also request the help of other team members to reach their goal.
- If the situation arises where the solution that the team has come up with, is not in keeping with the organization’s policies or is not a service provided by the organization, the facilitator has the job of taking this matter to the management and try to come up with a solution at that level.
In summary, the main objectives of a technical support tactical meeting are to spend more time talking about the important things and find a solution to help the customer more efficiently and satisfactorily. The purpose of these meetings is not to talk about things that are beyond the control of the team, or talk strategies or even politics, the purpose is to spend less time complaining and working together as a team to help each and every member of the team to perform their work efficiently and effectively. Hence, that is why we have not only implemented weekly tactical meetings at our organization, we also abide by the guidelines put forward in this article.
If you want to talk more about software support and operations, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org