Sunday, November 15, 2009

Could you Repeat the Question?

In the past month our Architecture Review Board meetings have blown out the capacity of our WebEx servers and exceeded our audio bridges. Twice. ARB meetings serve a number of purposes, the most obvious being to ensure alignment between proposed technology solutions and business priorities, which often times means extending technical capabilities. There is, however, a number of other value propositions, such as communicating impending activity, decision criteria, cultural thought processes, and maintaining contact between technology, infrastructure, and governance teams. For a number of reasons, chief among them the value being delivered and the respectful manner of the conversations, our ARB is a very popular venue.

As I said, we use desktop sharing and audio conferencing to enable participation from a dozen different locations, across four states. Asking all of the participants to leave their buildings to convene in a single venue is just not reasonable, especially when you consider that the same key resources we need to make the ARB effective are in high demand everywhere else. They simply cannot afford travel time on top of their busy meeting schedule.

To the plus side, the ARB benefits from tremendous participation, and the architects benefit from reduced travel / loss of work time. But... they don't always pay attention. I need to find a way to make money off of the statement, "Can you repeat the question", which is of course abbreviated for "I was not actually paying attention to the proceedings figuring you only invited me as a courtesy, and I thought I'd catch up on XKCD, Digg, and my over due time sheets; so could you repeat the question?" How many times I've wanted to reply, "I'm sorry, could you repeat your question?" just to see how deep the recursive loop could spin.

It's not always just a momentary distraction either. I had 20 minute detailed design conversation around VMWare operating on blade servers only to have a some attention deficit distractee ask 10 minutes later, "Are these on blade servers?" I wanted to say, "We reviewed the VMWare configuration while you were filing your nails, and we covered blade servers when you were submitting expenses."

It's not like we don't use all the social cues to avoid this situation. For instance we never end a question with a name, "I am concerned that the chromium plated muffler bearings won't handle the stress of the reverse thrust axle bumps, what about you.... Todd?" I mean, that's just unfair. So we also state the name first, "Todd, assuming you've been awake for the past fifteen minutes and I don't have to completely reintroduce the context of this question, who's your favorite pilgrim?"

Look, on-line meetings are great, and the more we work in geographically dispersed areas the more we're all going to have to get used to less face time and more virtual togetherness. But like the ads for Pepsi Max used to scream, Pay Attention!

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