The Five-A-Day Approach to Meetings

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Want a healthy discussion in your meeting? Try the five-a-day approach.

I tried something new last week when I was facilitating a workshop – and it involved vegetables. Not real ones, badly drawn ones on pieces of card as any talent I have for ideas dwarfs my non-existent talent for drawing. The idea – taken from the Agile approach to project management – was to estimate the size of a task or activity so that we could see if it needed to be broken down into component parts or if it could be tackled as it was. 

We had peas, carrots, potatoes, aubergines, cauliflowers and pumpkins. Each team member had their own set of vegetables. I would read out a task and the group would hold up a vegetable that indicated how much work they thought would be involved in completing that task. A pea was easy – a simple phone call or setting up a meeting – and a pumpkin indicated a massive, chunky piece of work that was either reliant on many things coming together or would involve a lot of moving parts. 


It was a quick way to see if everyone was thinking along the same lines - and if there were some outliers it gave them a chance to share why they thought something would be easier or trickier than the rest of the group. We rattled through 30 tasks in about 30 minutes. 

The approach is one I read about in Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum – which extols the value of an agile approach to project management. The beauty of the book is that you don’t have to buy into the whole Scrum approach. There are tips and tricks that can help any project stay on track and that you can take into a workshop to help move a project along.

Don’t estimate in absolute terms like hours, it’s been proven that humans are terrible at that.
— Jeff Sutherland, Scrum - The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half the Time

In the book, Sutherland suggests sizing tasks by dogs – but seeing as I am not a dog lover and ducks (I do love ducks) don’t come in a wide enough variety of sizes I went for vegetables.

The result was a quick-fire approach to what might have been a painful exercise. And yes, I know there were six vegetables, not five – none of which were harmed in the writing of this blog.