Why Brainstory for Teams?
The idea of Brainstory
I’ve worked at a few very different tech companies. Everywhere I’ve worked, people complain about how ineffective meetings are. Let me illustrate:
At Facebook, our engineering meetings often went like this:
Manager: “What is the status of this ticket?”
Engineer: gives status update
Manager: “Do you need any help or resources?”
Engineer: “Let’s circle back offline to save everyone time.”
This would repeat for all the engineers. In the end, we’d spend an hour providing context on our work, but then having to “circle back offline” to fill in the details. This meeting often occurred in the middle of the morning, which for me was a peak focus time.
Midgame was a small 3-person startup, so this is the opposite end from Facebook. We were all highly passionate and invested in our work. There was no “circle back offline”, but rather a constant urgency to make decisions.
We were a remote company with very different work schedules. Our CTO had just had a baby, so “jumping on a call” was not the easiest timing for him. He lived in a 1-bedroom apartment in NYC, so even speaking out loud could wake the sleeping baby.
Our CEO loved to walk and talk. He thought best when he could move his body (he was a former D1 athlete). The problem was we’d spend an hour talking, when we only needed to spend a few minutes making a decision.
As an IC engineer, I was caught in a Goldilocks situation— spending too much time in meetings with the CEO, not getting enough context from the CTO.
Rapid7 is a public cybersecurity company in Boston. Size and culture-wise, it sits right in the middle between Facebook and Midgame. Meetings were still awful.
As an IC devops engineer, I was invited to numerous meetings from different product teams. About 95% of those meetings did not apply to me, but the 5% that did was very important. I needed to be at every meeting because only I could tell when and why that 5% was important.
And this was true for every devops engineer on my team: We all spent a disproportionate amount of time in meetings. I often took my laptop home because it was the only place I could code in peace.
What’s the pattern?
- ICs dislike their current meeting schedules. Meeting schedules are made for managers. As a manager, a meeting is an effective way to have a “pulse” on the team and managers typically don’t need blocks of focus hours, so meetings aren’t disruptive to them. At every company I worked at, the managers were not complaining about the number of meetings— only ICs complained.
There have been some attempts at creating a social solution. Have you seen the calendar extension that calculates the cost of a meeting? As the saying goes, time is money.
- Companies don’t have a methodology for context sharing and decision making. At every company I’ve worked at, a subject we never cover is: How do we share context and make decisions? This approach seems to vary from team to team.
My 3-person team at Midgame spent a lot of time in all day brainstorming sessions with boxes of pizza and half-empty soda cans.
My team at Facebook had a very independent decision making process. Most people did not share information with each other, except with the manager. We were allowed to move fast and break things.
My team at Rapid7 spent an enormous amount of time sharing context, but was very slow to make decisions. It seemed like we were always in the “information gathering” stage.
So why Brainstory?
Help companies make better decisions. Brainstory starts at the individual level. It assists each person in articulating all the necessary context around a problem. Then, it shares this context with other team members who go through the same process of articulation. The collective result of this process is a dramatic reduction in the amount of time spent communicating context. Now we have a shared foundation of facts and we can directly proceed to a decision making stage with everyone’s input.