Have you ever been in a good meeting? I mean, a really good meeting -- one that started and ended on time, one in which everyone knew why they were there and what the objective was, and that actually gave participants the tools to move forward?

Probably not. Or at least, not often. More likely, your meetings are flaccid, bloated, puffy things that have more in common with a UN Security Council debate on the precise definition of "civil war" than with a tactical session to support a new product rollout.

Standard work, one of the cornerstones of the Toyota Production System, can help.

Standard work is often defined as the "the most effective combination of manpower, materials and machinery." In a meeting, of course, the critical resource is time. Thus, the purpose of standard work in a meeting is to specify how to use the allocated time -- and only the allocated time -- most effectively. No running long.

Fabtech Systems, a custom prosthetics manufacturer in Washington, has defined standard work for its weekly meetings. And they run beautifully. Over time, the company figured out how long it takes to cover all the bases in the weekly meetings. Each operator has a standard reporting sequence that lasts a specified period of time. And everyone follows the standard work to the minute. (A timekeeper helps ensure that people stay on track.) There's even time for a bit of schmoozing at the beginning.

Even better, the company tracks performance on a variety of metrics after meetings. Are people getting the answers they need? Are problems resolved? Is there a higher or lower level of production problems following the meeting? Etc. It's a terrific example of PDCA applied to something as squishy and non-quantifiable as a meeting.

Whether you're on the shop floor, the design studio, or the accounting office, meetings are often the bane of your existence. Try defining standard work for the meeting and see if you can't turn the blather and bloat into something of real value.

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