Scrum-like lab meetings

UPDATE: @naupakaz shared a paper explaining a very similar idea via twitter.

Organising successful lab meetings is not an easy task, specially when your group may not have a critical mass of PhD’s and PostDocs. Main aims of the meetings for most labs I’ve been include 1) stay up-to-date on what people is doing, 2) Discuss relevant literature, 3) Give early feedback on peoples projects and 4) discuss techniques, methods or academic culture. And above all, the most important thing for me is that they has the potential to build team spirit.

Despite the above points are all well-aimed, and most times are more or less accomplished, I have also seen some lab meetings fail and people feeling that going is an obligation/waste of time rather than an opportunity. The main reason for that I think is that meetings tend to be no prepared in advance. This is usually associated to overly long meetings and people not being engaged with the topic.

This will be my approach starting next Monday. SCRUM-like stand up meetings every Monday  and Wednesday 9:30 am (sharp!) in my office. Maximum duration 15 minutes (strict!). During the meeting each person will answer this three questions.

  • What I did / learn last week.
  • What I plan to do this week.
  • Which help do I need to accomplish the plan.

In that moment there is no discussion around those questions. If anything needs to be discussed at length, we will schedule a specific meeting for that just with the interested actors. Moreover we will do this in English, not in Spanish, to force new PhD students to get into the habit to talk in english.

This structure has several advantages. Keeps everyone updated and fosters interaction among the different members of the group. Helps you think about what you accomplished /learnt, which should be a positive reinforcement. And finally helps you to plan ahead and be goal oriented. For me as a mentor, allows me to be on the loop on all projects in a fast way, and allows me to act as a facilitator, rather than as an old-school leader. SCRUM people do this everyday, but I think in my lab each people work in a quite different / independent project, so maybe two days a week its fine. However, my IT friends maintain that the way to go is a meeting every morning, so I’ll consider it.

Regarding the other aims of lab meetings, I’ll get advantage of others labs to gain critical mass. EBD runs a monthly Journal club we will attend to discuss papers. This will also make us read broader. We will also join Montse Vilà’s group for getting feedback on projects or discussing methods. This longer meetings will be scheduled when need and will have to requisites. One hour maximum duration and people has to come prepared in advance.

The post is getting lengthy, so I wont go into implementing formal retrospectives every time we publish a paper, but if you are interested in “Agile” development, follow the wikipedia links on SCRUM and Agile.