Tools & Technologies

20 Hours to Setup a Meeting, Oct 5

When I was in California in December last year for the When 2.0 conference, I had the good fortune to meet Oren Sreebny; I was introduced to him by the CalConnect people, and I’ve tracked his blog ever since. Oren gets to attend many more conferences that I, and I really appreciate the notes he takes. Oren was at the CalConnect Fall Roundtable in Cupertino (hosted by Apple; I wonder if they let non-Macs in the building?), and one of the comments he made about the session caught my eye:

Mike Douglass says that Boeing did a survey and found that it typically takes 20 hours of work to schedule a meeting, so clearly there’s a business justification to make this happen.

20 Hours to Schedule a Meeting
As I discussed in my Shared Spaces report on Calendaring, (a) free-busy and (b) consolidated calendaring interfaces are very broken today, although there are some exemplars in the field. So I’m a believer in the need of better free-busy, be that a merely technical improvement, or something that includes the social factors around availability and willingness to attend (hat tip, TimeBridge). But does it really take 20 hours to schedule a meeting?

No, not always. There will be a certain set of parameters and variables around which that number makes sense, for example:

  • Number of meeting participants … generally speaking, as more people are involved, the time taken to find the next available free time will increase, perhaps along an exponential curve. However, this will reverse at some point, due to the meeting becoming an “event” that people decide they have to attend, no matter what.
  • Number of represented organizations … generally speaking, the more organizations represented in a meeting, the longer it will take, again perhaps along an exponential curve.
  • Time in advance of the meeting … generally speaking, the closer you are to the desired meeting date, the longer it will take to find a suitable common time, since people’s calendars will be fuller than for meetings further away.

A Model of Time Taken to Schedule a Meeting
I haven’t seen the Boeing analysis, so I’m going to try to reconcile their 20 hour number with the variables above (although my model does ignore the impact of multiple organizations). I’ve guesstimated these numbers based on my own experience and thus an intuitive analysis, so don’t hold me to these. These are indicative / thoughtful numbers, and are not an academically rigorous analysis via quantitative data collection in the field. But it’s a start (I find this area fascinating; it is one of the two topics that I’d consider undertaking PhD level study on).

  • Table 1 … For each time the proposed participants are asked to respond to a meeting suggestion, how long does it take them to (a) look at their diary, and (b) offer a series of times that might work. I assume that as the number of participants increases, the number of minutes per participant to do this also increases.
  • Table 2 … How many scheduling iterations are required to get a meeting scheduled, depending on the number of days prior to the desired meeting date the first invitation is sent.
  • Table 3 … A calculation of “Minutes per Meeting Participant” (Table 1) by “Number of Interations” (Table 2). The results over 20 hours are highlighted in yellow.
  • Table 4 … A calculation of the cost across the group for manually scheduling a single meeting … scheduling that is, not attending. Vendors that can remove the friction from this process through automated free/busy services could use these numbers to show the return on investment possible via an purchase (not money saved however, rather time that can be used for more profitable activities).

Here’s the results (click the spreadsheet for full-size image, in a new window):

Hence the conclusion is, once you have more than 20 people involved in a meeting, schedule far in advance of the meeting otherwise it will take everyone more than 20 hours of effort. And for vendors of suitable technology, there’s clearly a value to organizations from your wares … bring it on!

If you want a copy of the spreadsheet, please let me know!

Have You Looked At This?
Is this something you’ve looked at within your organization / network of contacts? What conclusions did you come to? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Categories: Tools & Technologies