One on One Meetings: How We Do at Big Corp

One-on-ones. Damn, how do they work?

(I swear, that video has provided me with endless amusement.)

Go read or re-read the earlier post. Shoo.

Several things make one-on-ones rather different here at Big Corp than they were at Skookum:

I’m a contractor

The “long-term view” is ultimately a question of “How long do we need you?” and “Will I stay that long?” It’s all very amicable and such, but I don’t get things like: company-paid conferences, to attend internal bigwig visits, paid lunches, to meet my boss’s boss, or much internal mobility beyond what I carve out for myself. (Big Corp is very paranoid about contractors thinking they’re employees.)

Instead, there’s a short- to mid-term view that focuses on workflow, project timelines, and resource management. Many of the hands-on folks in my area are contractors, and there are relatively few of us remaining, so any comings and goings are big news.

More manager involvement in projects

My new manager isn’t a producer1 or project manager, per se, but does run the occasional project and is a head honcho on the public site. That puts him in a spot where he can directly influence my work by talking with the relevant producer. Not that I’d be uncomfortable talking to most of them, unless there’s a real mess in the making that someone with seniority needs to handle.

Less structure

I talked a lot in the older post about the structure of one-on-ones, about the combination of the manager’s 1,000-foot view of the team versus the individual’s 100-foot view.

My area in Big Corp is, ironically, very fluid. Roles are rigid, but knowledge (and the power in that) is fluid, making it more small company-ish than I expected. I often know what’s coming down my pipeline better than my manager. That’s no dig on him–I manage myself very well, he doesn’t run/oversee many of my projects, and I’m the only developer. There’s no real “resource management”. I get all projects that come through that need my input, and I push back on timelines when I need to.

Given that, the 1,000-foot view is often best pieced together from multiple sources rather than disseminated from on-high in a one-on-one. Talk to the content managers about what they’re doing and what’s coming through. Talk to the producers about upcoming work I suspect may land on me. Try to keep the QA folks in the know on what’s rolling downhill for them if they don’t know.

That wouldn’t have worked as well at the small companies I’ve been in, but it’s the best strategy here. As a result, though, my one-on-ones are unstructured: talk some about my workflow, chat about video games, talk some about his upcoming travel schedule, chat about bank legislation, etc. It’s a nice break from desk time and has value, but it doesn’t have the intensity and purpose that Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby propose.

Still not done

I still haven’t seen a one-on-one in a more conventional big corporation structure, like the permanent folks with go-forward jobs probably have.

What my current role as a contractor should force me to do, though, is to have the serious conversations with myself: a look at my current projects, what’s coming down the pipeline, a revisit of my yearly employment goals, and a reassessment of how I can do my best on each of those.

Which everyone should be doing anyway.

1: So, what the hell is a “producer”, right? Wikipedia has a definition of web producer that doesn’t really match my experiences at Big Corp, but isn’t too far off. In my experience, a producer is a project manager that isn’t technical or hands-on and doesn’t handle financials. They coordinate with lines of business (who give requirements) and turn those requests into actionable projects and timelines that we (developers, content managers, and QA) then implement. A project manager (who does handle financials) might pull in a producer to handle the day-to-day of a project, but within our team, there are no full PMs (…I think). It’d be overkill.