A few months ago, we realized we had a problem: Aerolab’s growth made us solve a simple, yet lethal equation: lots of people + lots of meetings = little productivity. We had to organize ourselves. No problem. We love challenges 😜
Although we don’t show it often, we are somewhat human. As such, we sometimes find it hard to focus. That’s why we created a new communication scheme to organize our meetings better and avoid constant interruptions in our creative processes.
Luckily, Paul Graham, English programmer and co-founder of Y Combinator, had already overcome a similar issue in 2009 and wrote a very interesting article on how to solve this kind of puzzle:
Graham suggests to plan working days based on two different agendas: Maker’s Schedule and Manager’s Schedule. The author explains that managers can easily divide their calendars into one-hour periods and that array poses no problems for the attendees. Managers’ relationship with their calendars, says Graham, is a simple one: they find a blank space in their timetable, arrange an appointment and that’s it.
The issue arises when a meeting involves designers and/or developers. Makers divide their workday into much longer periods of time than managers, and interrupting their creative processes could make them lose up to half a day’s work.
Based on this notion, we created a new communication diagram looking to establish which groups participate in each meeting, what is the agenda for each meeting and how long they should be.
“Our goal is to optimize the teams’ communication flow and define who communicates with who when deciding on strategies, tasks and designate each project’s lead,” said Alejandro Vizio, Creative Director at Aerolab.
It has been proven that none of us, no matter how hard we try, can carry out multiple tasks at the same time. Also, jumping constantly back and forth between creative and management tasks makes for a huge waste of energy.
This is why we divided Aerolab’s structure into four groups –Strategy, Project Owners, Leads & Specialists and Workforce– and we made sure the members of each group only attend meetings in which they are needed.
“We used to have one-hour meetings where many attendees remained quiet. Hence, we decided to organize our meetings by topic and only have the necessary people attend”, explained Juani Ruíz Echazú, UX Director at Aerolab.
How did we fix it?
The first thing we did was to divide our calendar into weekly and daily meetings. In our first weekly meetings we established the strategies we would implement for new clients, we looked into each project’s situation and defined how we would set up the teams. These meetings were only attended by members of the Strategy and Project Owners groups.
Once a week we also have our Product Design and Product Development meetings. These gatherings are useful to define work methodologies, request collaboration from illustration and motion design specialists or suggest the use of new technologies.
Simultaneously, in these meetings we choose our design and development leaders for each project, who will be in charge of making the most immediate decisions and reporting on the project’s evolution to Project Owners.
“As Aerolab grew, we realized we couldn’t be in every project at once. We had no physical time to meet with every team, we needed to cut down on meetings and put someone in charge of communicating the projects’ status and the decisions that were being made”, said Juani.
We are sure discussion and constructive criticism is what lets us grow. This is why, once a week, we have a Project Review check-up where we analyze a project in detail, from the design perspective, the development, iterations and relationship with the customer. If you want to learn more about how our Project Review check-ups work, read this article.
Our daily meetings, on the other hand, include short, casual encounters where each team’s leader shares the project’s status with his or hers project managers and if there’s any issue to be tackled. Additionally, each team has daily meetings with customers, that are held first thing in the morning or at the end of the day in order to avoid interrupting creative tasks.
Let’s test this!
Since the beginning, our cornerstone has been that we’re obsessed about creating high quality products. That’s a habit that takes time, effort and organization. As our family grew, it became harder to keep our work processes in order and that took a toll on our productivity.
Today we have a new method and we’re testing it. Like each new thing we add to our workplace, it will change until we reach a scheme that suits our needs and makes us feel at ease.