Focus on outcomes for better UX meetings

Your time is your most precious asset. When scheduling a meeting, you're about to take someone's time. Someone else is probably paying for that time, so you're about to spend someone else's money. As a professional, your ethics require you be judicious, respectful, and productive with your peers's time and money. 

People are lazy, so never meet unless you need something. Unfortunately, we usually schedule meetings around a topic. Meetings unfold like this: you hang out for an hour. You talk about a topic. When you leave the meeting, you don’t have what you need. You wasted the hour. You haven't been judicious, respectful, or productive with anyone’s time. 

Instead of organizing a meeting around a topic, organize your meeting around the outcome. At the end of the meeting, what do you want to walk out with?

They key word there is "you". If you describe your outcome along the lines of "have the team understand blah blah blah", then you need to get over yourself. There's no one in the world so brilliant they should tell someone else what they should understand or learn.

Instead, focus on a concrete, specific, measurable result. "Everyone on the team will agree on requirements". Or, "we will identify a list of changes to the wireframes."

After the end of the meeting, you should answer, “yes”, to “did I walk out of the meeting with the outcome I needed?”

Forcing outcomes

To ensure you have the outcome you need, make sure all attendees focus on your outcome. There are a couple of ways you can help participants focus on the outcome:

  1. Draft a meeting purpose that states the outcome 
  2. Include instructions on how to achieve the outcome 
  3. Identify specific outputs that shape the collection of the outcome

You can use any one of these tactics to focus your meetings on outcomes, but the real magic happens when you use all three, together. If you let attendees know the purpose of the meeting, include instructions on how to get there, and provide an output format that helps you collect the outcome, then you can spend the meeting working directly on the outcome instead of spending an hour talking about a topic.

1. Draft a Meeting Purpose

If your meeting invite has only one thing, it needs to have a clear, direct, outcome-focused goal. You want to include the meeting purpose in the one, best place, where attendees will most likely see it, i the meeting title.

The meeting title is the best place to put your meeting purpose. You can almost guarantee your attendees will look at the meeting title before they attend the meeting.

Here are two, random, bad examples of meeting titles from my calendar:

  • Discuss social strategy
  • Workshop updates

When I look up from whatever I'm doing and rush to catch your meeting, I don't know or remember why I am attending your meeting. Moreover, I probably don’t care about your meeting, so I don’t want to spend much time preparing or thinking about your meeting. If I want to put the least amount of effort into your meeting, I will read the meeting title and not much else. If you placed the outcome in the meeting title, then I’ll see it right before I walk in.

A good meeting purpose has three parts:

  1. A verb, like identify, review, etc.
  2. An object, like wireframes, designs, strategy, etc.
  3. An outcome, like changes, next steps, etc.

It's like Mad Libs: verb + subject + outcome

If you and your coworkers only work on one project, then all you need is verb,subject, and outcome. I work on multiple projects, so it's pretty useful to add a project name:

  • Verb + project name + object + outcome
  • Review microsite wireframe changes
  • Identify eCommerce launch next steps

If you place the purpose in the meeting title, then your attendees will see it when they receive the invite and see it again when they glance at their calendar on the way to the meeting. You get to remind them why you're meeting before they walk into the room.

You identified the outcome you wanted from the meeting, you invited people to help you achieve the outcome, and before the meeting, the title reminds everyone about the outcome. Now, all that's left is getting the outcome. :-)

2. Include Instructions to Generate outcomes 

If I want to review a wireframe with a team member, I don't have to explain anything. We've reviewed scads of wireframes. We know what we're doing. We know how to evaluate a wireframe.

What about your clients?

If your client doesn't review wireframes very often, they may not realize how to best help you reach your outcome. Even if they review wireframes all the time, that doesn't mean they will provide you with the outcomes you need. Or maybe they just do it all wrong. Sigh... Clients.

To make sure you get the outcomes you need, provide instructions.

With the meeting purpose, you've already told them what you want to do. Instructions tell them how the group will do it. 

Remember, we're lazy. You don't want a longitudinal, statistically valid process for evaluating the organizational efficacy and resilience of whatever you're reviewing. You just want a few notes on how to generate the outcome.

For example, let's say your outcome is a prioritized list of functional requirements. What do you have to do to create that list?

  • Review each requirement? Check. 
  • Assign a priority of high, medium, or low to each? Check.

State the instructions clearly and concisely. And you want to make friends and influence people, so communicate them nicely instead of listing orders. For example: "We will review each requirement to assign a priority of high, medium, or low."

We've all run meetings that were supposed to run a certain way, derailed, plowed through a flower garden, two orphanages, and a no-kill animal shelter before bursting into a ball of flame. Sometimes placing the outcome in the title and providing some instructions aren't enough to keep things on track. 

The next thing you need are guard rails. You need an artifact that shapes the conversation. 

3. Shape the outcomes

It's easy for a spirited discussion to wander off-topic or generate outcomes that are almost useful, almost what you needed. Fortunately, since you know what outcome you need, it's pretty easy to put together a tool that will help you collect information the way you need it.

Let's look at an example:

Let's deconstruct this example.

  • What outcome do you want? A list of next steps.
  • What information do you need in order to collect next steps? A description of the step.

In contrast, take a look at this example:

Let's deconstruct this example.

  • What outcome do you want? A list of next steps. 
  • What information do you need in order to collect next steps? A description of the step. AND, who is responsible and when it's due.

If you can identify how you need the outcomes, you can construct a template or checklist that ensures you collect the outcomes in the right way. Think about other common outcomes we typically face in meetings:

  • Changes to a document (that need to be made by someone)
  • Open issues/questions (that need to be explored and answered)

What information do you need to help ensure you resolve changes and open issues as efficiently and effectively as possible?

Focus your meetings on outcomes

A meeting without a specific outcome is almost guaranteed to be a waste of time. But knowing the outcome you need isn't enough. You need to communicate the outcome and then help your participants help you get there.

Communicate your meeting outcome by including it in the meeting invite, preferably in the meeting subject. Then, support the meeting discussion by giving your participants some guidance on how to provide the right outcomes, and use a template to collect the outcomes that forces the right kinds of discussion.

The most important thing about meetings is that they involve other people's time, Be respectful of their time by making sure your meeting is set up to be as productive as possible.

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