Meeting I Never Miss: The Triage Meeting
Who: Kathleen Hebert, General Manager, Microsoft Project
Players: Six functional managers
Frequency: Seven evenings a week during the last two months of a development cycle.
Purpose: "To prioritize and eliminate roadblocks quickly in the face of tight shipping deadlines.
Why I Never Miss It: "It enables us to deal with tons of issues at a feverish pace - without sacrificing quality.
For one of the hardest-driving companies in the world's fastest-paced industry, there's no question that business is war. But while the world focuses on the open combat between Microsoft and its competitors, the software giant's legions of programmers, planners, and testers are engaged in another battle - against bugs. As general manager of Microsoft's $220 million project-management software business, Kathleen Hebert leads about 100 workers in this unending fight. Her secret weapon? The "triage" meeting. In the final months of a development cycle, Hebert and her division's six functional "leads" meet nightly to sort through the complex tangle of glitches that inevitably plague each release of Microsoft Project. The object? Ruthless priority-setting and immediate action. In triage, "issues are decided in a very unambiguous way and quickly communicated to the team," says Hebert.
Balance of power. "We bring in all perspectives - technological, business, customer - and constantly ask ourselves, 'Is this the hill we want to die on?' The trade-offs immediately become clear."
Velocity of information. "Triage is about the immediate conversion of decisions into action. The leads close issues and set priorities quickly, so developers can keep writing code."
Microsoft office. "We cram into a standard-issue office. People sit on the floor or lean against the wall."
A different snack every time.
Structured informality. "The triage meeting mirrors Microsoft's culture as a whole. People jump in with their opinions - usually passionately - and then groups 'negotiate' to a decision. The structure comes from the program manager, who moves the group through the bugs posted in our 'Raid' database, in order of priority. Each decision is posted immediately in the database so the team can get to work on it, and then we move on to the next issue."
Matt Goldberg firstname.lastname@example.org is editing Tripod's Tools for Life, forthcoming this fall from Hyperion.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.