At a recent project management class at Portland State University, Tonia McConnell–a great instructor I’ve worked with in other classes–asked me how my meetings were going.  Since my first class with Tonia I’ve used Gobby more deliberately in a lot meetings, particularly with the Fedora Board and schedule reviews.  I’ve also use it for internal meetings at Red Hat.

Tonia asked me to tell the rest of the class about Gobby.  Before explaining Gobby I tried to set the context for my “meeting environment” in Fedora and at Red Hat–how very few of us are in the same physical location and a majority of our meetings happen over the telephone or IRC.  The looks on most people’s faces seemed to indicate that my environment was much different than theirs.

It is easy to forget how unusual my work environment is compared to traditional on-site project managers.  They like refer to my work environment as “virtual” which strikes me kind of funny, because although it isn’t in person, it still exists.  It is true that I don’t:

  • Work in an office
  • See the people I work with face to face every day
  • Work in the same time zone, let alone the same state or country as my co-workers
  • Get paid by the same employer as many of the people I work with

Many of the people in the class work at traditional companies managing projects for organizations ranging from local government, private companies and large publicly traded companies.   Hearing the horror stories of some of these environments was an excellent reminder of how thankful I am for the people I work.

I explained how Gobby has greatly improved the speed at which I can turn around meeting minutes at the conclusion of a meeting.  I particularly enjoyed the strange looks from people who appeared disturbed that I let everyone help with the meeting minutes and consider it beneficial.

Anyone who has taken meeting minutes knows that good minutes often require as much time as the meeting itself and that if you let too much time slip by after the meeting it takes twice as long. In the past it wasn’t unusual for me to take rough notes during a one hour meeting and spend another hour cleaning them up and turning them into something I could post publicly or send to the attendees.

Gobby provides the following benefits:

  • People are more engaged and encouraged to pay better attention
  • Gobby also has a chat window so people can say things without interrupting others.  I’ve seen this be really helpful at some meetings and a distraction at others–too much conversation on other topics was happening in the chat window.
  • Other people can help type notes if you are talking or contributing to the meeting
  • Other people can correct your spelling mistakes or clarify sections that are confusing
  • Everyone is accountable for the meeting minutes because they were present at their creation and have less excuses for coming back later and saying “I didn’t know about that” or “I didn’t agreed with that action item.”
  • At the conclusion of the meeting there is very little work for me to do.

I typically wait 10 or 15 minutes (longer if someone requests more time) after the meeting is over before capturing what is in Gobby and adding it to the wiki and sending another copy out as an email with the URL to the wiki version.

I have also used Gobby with great success where larger groups are gathered in a conference room.  In this environment I have someone project the gobby session on a screen so that others without laptops can see what is being written and suggest changes if necessary.

See the Fedora wiki for more information on using Fedora’s Gobby instance.