Meetings and meeting tools
Here, you’ll find a list of tools folks at 18F use to schedule meetings, along with information about some specific meetings at 18F.
Our agency maintains a formal meeting, conference, and event policy which may be found here. The most applicable part of this policy for 18F is the approval requirement for internal meetings that require the travel of more than six employees or will cost more than $10,000. For these meetings, approval of both the Commissioner of the Technology Transformation Service and the Deputy Administrator of GSA via the Salesforce Event Tracker system. For further information and help getting your request submitted, please contact our 18F Director of Operations (Patrick Bateman).
Remember that you can book time on your own calendar. We recommend blocking off your own “free” time in two-to-four hour chunks to complete tasks.
Also, meetings can and should be designed. If you’re planning a meeting, be sure to state your goal – what the meeting is and what it isn’t – in an agenda. The #wg-workshops Slack channel is a good place to ask for help about meeting design. You can also use the “Discover” and “Decide” methods from 18F’s Design Methods as a starting point.
18F is housed inside of a larger organization called OCSIT (the Offices of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology). Because we occasionally work on projects all on our own, OCSIT periodically brings everyone together for quarterly Townhalls. These also serve as demo days. You’ll hear well in advance about any upcoming townhalls, which should give you ample time to plan (and rearrange your schedule, if necessary). Conversations during demos takes place in the Slack channel #townhall.
Individual offices also have rituals that you might want to take part in. If you’re in San Francisco, for example, there’s a weekly Potluck on Thursdays, and guests are always welcome to join. The potluck serves as an informal huddle with the entire SF team, and it’s a great opportunity for guests to meet the team and learn more about 18F. Along similar lines, the D.C. office has the #dc-lunch-club, which is a nice group/meeting for people who are so busy they often forget to eat (!). See the office guides for more information.
Working groups shape the culture, frameworks, and work style across 18F. They often meet weekly. If you’re interested in a working group’s focus, you should join the group and attend meetings. And you don’t have to become a permanent member of a working group to attend the occasional meeting. For example, newcomers occasionally join the onboarding working group’s meetings (even if they don’t want to take part in the working group itself) to voice their concerns about the onboarding process.
Management holds weekly open meetings to share informal updates and hear your concerns. These meetings will appear on your calendar as “Coffee with Aaron.”
Our weekly all-hands meeting includes everyone across 18F, and it’s how the team disseminates news, updates, and congratulations. It takes place on Tuesdays at 12:30 EST. You aren’t required to attend the all hands, but you are strongly encouraged to – it’s where big announcements are made, and attending is a great way to put names to faces. The agenda is posted beforehand in #news, and you can add to it by contacting Qituwra Anderson. Qituwra also takes and posts notes from the all-hands meeting.
Standups are required, unless you hear otherwise. Please don’t miss standups; their value comes partly from information sharing, but also derives from 18F being represented in discussions and the decision-making process and feeling ownership over the problem being solved.
Standups are a ritual for shared storytelling. Standups usually occur in Slack and may take this form:
- Y(esterday): I did this thing.
- T(oday): I plan to do this other thing.
- B(lockers): This is currently or potentially inhibiting me from doing what I’d like to do.
18F team member Andrew Maier has this to say about Slack standups:
I adore the “softer” parts of projects and thus see my “today” and “blocker” updates as one in the same. In other words, I start with blockers: what are the open questions I’m trying to answer, and who should I ask or what might I design to provoke an answer? I use blockers to craft a narrative, or short story, about where we’ve been, where I’m going, and how I believe my work will inform the larger problems my team is wrestling with. This allows the team – especially the team lead, who’s working to manage the project scope – to get a better picture of what’s going on inside my head and how I’m framing the problem we’re collectively solving.
The success of most projects depends on good communication. This brings me to the second thing I want to mention about standups, or really projects in general: Assume best intent when you’re communicating. This is a large part of 18F’s otherwise-implicit social contract. Practically speaking, this means that the most important part of project standups, aside from storytelling, is active listening (be that listening to our colleagues or our agency partners). Working in government means working on projects and designs that are themselves beholden to multiple stakeholders, occasionally across multiple agencies. Projects wax and wane for various reasons, many of which are outside of our control. Therefore, it’s generally best to assume that things are moving “up and to the right,” whenever possible.
I could go into a whole lecture on project culture and cadence, but I’ll end it at that. Be sure to use project standups as an exercise in addressing the questions weighing on the team: Talk about scope and talk about blockers. If you’re particularly anxious, like me, maybe you make an “open questions” document. Either way, do your fair share of listening and be kind – not critical – when you ask questions. Phrasing is important.
Another project-specific meeting is the retrospective (called a retro, for short). This usually happens at the end of a two-week-long design or development sprint.
The idea behind the retro is pretty simple: This meeting provide an opportunity for the team to reflect on how it’s working. Like standups, retros are another project-governance meeting.
They generally take between 30 and 45 minutes, and involve a few chunks of time: between five and eight minutes to write down what worked, between five and eight minutes to write down what needs addressing, and between five and eight minutes to write down what didn’t work. Lastly, people can vote on issues and then discuss the most-voted-for ones as a team. The product of the meeting is “action items” that help the team function better next time.
The last project-specific meeting is sprint planning. Sprint planning takes many forms at 18F, but the goal is to come together to decide what to do (and how to estimate the work being done) during an upcoming sprint. If it’s a team’s first time doing sprint planning, I’m also a big fan of doing a “Hopes and Fears” exercise to map out the more subconscious things motivating my teammates.
18F Design and Development run the following meetings in addition their own team-specific all-hands meetings (which fall outside of the scope of this document):
Critique groups. The design team runs critique groups that meet once a week and, as you might expect, serve as an opportunity for storytelling and rapport building. There are a number of critique groups currently meeting, and each of them has a different focus. To learn more about any of them, contact Jennifer Thibault.
Demo days. Another thing the design team is cooking up are demo days, which are exactly what they sound like. Demo days aren’t regularly scheduled – please check the 18F Events calendar to see what’s on the schedule.
In addition, the #dev team does Engineering Talks every two weeks or so. These are listed on the “18F Engineering” calendar.
Here’s an overview of how 18F uses specific tools to facilitate meetings.
18F uses shared calendars in Google Calendar for 18F events, interviews, and “out of office” time (please mark personal/sick and vacation time here in addition to logging it in ALOHA). We also use shared calendars for working groups, guilds, and blog planning.
You can specify which hours you work. From the guide: “About a third of the way down the ‘General’ settings’ page there’s a section called ‘Working hours’ and a checkbox that’s unchecked by default. If you check it, you can specify your preferred working hours. Once you save your changes, other people will get a warning if they try to schedule you outside those times.”
You can see other people’s public calendars to help schedule meetings. To view someone else’s calendar, type their name in the lefthand column under “other calendars.” Finally, there’s a link titled “Find a time” (left of what’s shown in the gif, below) which shows everyone’s schedules next to each other so you can easily see when there are no conflicts.
You can also look for suggested times based on the people attending by clicking “suggested times” after you’ve added guests to your meeting.
You can set up blocks of time that people can reserve. Just select “Appointment slots” after you choose a window of time (this is especially useful for researchers).
Google Hangouts are video chats in the browser. Here are some tips for using Hangouts:
- You can add a Google Hangout to a meeting invite by clicking “Add video call” on the event management page.
- You can also start or share a hangout from Slack by typing
- GSA IT has disabled chat for 18F while using Google Hangouts. We use Slack with Google Hangouts to send links and images.
- You can dial people into a Hangout. A Hangout’s “invite” dialog can generate a phone number that people can call.
- Use screensharing for demos and for pairing.
Federal employees use a range of different video software to communicate. Check with your agency partner for preferences. Some common programs:
- Google Hangouts
- Adobe Connect
Set up a conference line
Use Meeting Space.
We can record iOS 8+ devices by connecting via lightning connector and then starting a QuickTime new movie recording. To record, you have to change the audio and video input devices.