Coffee club or committee meeting?

Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about front end ‘chapters’ yesterday.

Of course, every organisation is different. Some of you don’t have these kind of meetings at all. Some of you have them monthly, bi-weekly or weekly.

In my last permanent leadership role, we called it the ‘Front End Collective’ (with some referring to it sardonically as the ‘Politburo’). For one of you, it’s named the ‘Back End of the Front End Week’, because it is held on a Friday. Others don’t really have a name at all.

Names aside, I hid my most important question near the end: What decision-making power does this group hold?

The answers to this varied across the spectrum, from ‘basically none’ to ‘full autonomy to set the front end direction for [the company].’

This doesn’t surprise me. There isn’t one correct answer to this. It’s more important that the decision-making remit of the group is understood by everyone involved, and by others who are affected by any decisions that are made.

An example: When I was a contractor at a large broadcasting company in London, a friend of mine who worked in another team on another site set up an informal ‘social’ for front-end developers. We convened roughly once a month, at the pub, with no formal backing from any managers and no official decision-making power.

Of course, we knew this was the case. The monthly events were a chance to share experiences, help each other out with gnarly problems and spot collaboration opportunities. The events were focused on relaxed socialising because the stakes were low. We knew that we weren’t going to start enforcing code standards or technology decisions across the organisation.

In my most recent permanent role, it was different. We explicitly had a remit to set standards, guidelines and technology approaches, but mostly for our own collective benefit (hence the use of the term ‘Collective’ in the title). This totally changed the nature of many of the meetings, which were geared towards group decision making, advocacy, consensus and acceptance (hence the backchannel labelling of ‘Politburo’). This is not to say we didn’t have more relaxing social and educational events too. It can’t be all business all the time.

If you’re considering setting up a group like this in your organisation, it’s vital to set the ownership remit up front so that you can involve the right people and give the sessions appropriate priority and focus. Whether you give it a tongue-in-cheek name to refer to its internal political model is up to you.

All the best,

– Jim

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