No what ifs

Ban What-Ifs in meetings


Many meetings drags on discussing potential what-if scenarios, don’t waste time on those.

Instead when you have agreed on the next step, finish the meeting straight away and focus on that step. Then meet again if necessary afterwards.

Less what-if - more focus.

What is a “What If”?

Discussions, planning, estimating a scenario that may happen. Usually followed by further “What-ifs” depending on its output. With responses planned in detail. It is a huge waste of time as most will never happen.

Not business-wide what-ifs

The necessity or futility of corporation-wide business scenario meetings are not the focus of this blog post.

This post is more about the smaller frequent team/project/department meetings what-ifs.

long bird meeting]

Photo by Jenny Hendershot via Backyard Assist

Drags on

Meetings that drag on forever is my main moan

Many meetings are a quick team huddle to discuss a particular task/issue. Often a plan to handle this issue is quickly brainstormed and agreed on.

But… then most meetings do not end there.

As mentioned at the top people start to discuss and plan what if the first solution does not work. And more iterations and decision trees beyond that for the second, third, etc solution. These becomes so speculative and of little value as usually situations change too much for them to carry much value.

Hotel California]

Photo by LA Dreaming

Using allocated meeting time

These meetings that drag on I despise. It seems people try to just to fill the time allocated time instead of letting people leave to crack on. I used to love arguing these possible technicalities for the sake of it, but these days I just see the wasted effort.

10 minute meeting

If a meeting can finish after 10 minutes then great.

Those are good meetings.


Quite frequently these never ending meetings can be due to the meeting organiser having a busy schedule, but often the rest of the attendees do not. Don’t waste their time due to your inability to decline meetings.


Not just the wasted time is upsetting, but spending time and effort planning for a future that do not happen can affect moral. People may start to look forward to something they have discussed in detail only to realise later on that it will never happen. Over and over again.

Expensive meetings

License unknown

Meetings are expensive

Meetings themselves are expensive. The more the larger the crowd. People have basically downed tools during the meeting. And interrupts teams, pairs, individuals productivity a lot. So affects for longer than just the meeting allocation.

Analyses preparation before, estimation, documentation afterwards, etc are further expense on top of these meeting costs.


I still remember 15 years ago when I was working for a consultancy where most of the department was body-shopped to clients on-site as individual contractors. Sometimes however everyone was called into the HQ office for some basic info and “team” bonding. In one of these meetings everyone was in a large meeting room.

The CEO, or maybe it was the CFO, popped his head through the door. His eyes grew wide, nearly watering, as he saw 30 of his contractors that was not at the clients invoicing. He gasped: “Wow this is an expensive meeting!”

Plans Are Worthless, But Planning Is Everything

Misquote from Dwight D. Eisenhower

Contruction workers

Photo by Designing Buildings

Is planning not essential?

Being unprepared is naïve and irresponsible.

But you do not need to predict the whole future, and plan and estimate it in detail all the time.

Your architects, analyst, UX researchers, project and product owners, etc will naturally have to have some foresight into the funnel coming up. That is in their job description, but no need to involve everyone in all of these when they are speculative.

Heads up

Sure, a quickfire of what can happen and what may be the future actions needed is sensible. And two-way communications is invaluable.

But drop the details and estimations until it becomes relevant.

Groom a little

I do not have a problem with Grooming your backlog with the team.

But not in every meeting. And only a tiny bit in brief sessions.

And I have a problem with the need for estimating, see below.

Optional inclusion

Feel free to include people, inform people of future plans but do no make it mandatory to plan what-ifs for everyone, all the time.

Optional departure

Or alternatively let people leave when you enter the futile What-If zone in a meeting?

Team focus

Photo by Chris Reading from Pixabay. Pixabay License

Focus, iteratively

The next step, only

When you have agreed on what to do next, just end the meeting and focus on it together straight away.

And then only afterwards look into detail of the following what-ifs once you know the outcome of the initial step.

Then plan and focus for the new next step. Only.

Meetings are “cheap”

Not the time as explained above if in large long meetings, but organising quick short meetings with just the people concerned should be easy, and if brief relatively cheap.

These days a quick ad-hoc Zoom/Teams meeting or Slack/Discourse huddle is so effortless.

JITP - Just-in-time-plans

Only have planning meetings for eventualities that will definitely happen. And you know that only when it is just about to happen.

I an not a civil engineer, that may need to plan ahead in detail as physical construction issues can be expensive to undo.

But I am a software engineer. We can have meetings and plan just enough, act on it, evaluate, then plan just enough again. Iteratively. i.e. “Agile/Lean”.

No estimations

These problem stems often from the requirements to estimate everything. Instead we can benefit from the no-estimates convention. You would then have no need to continually plan future work in detail to have guestimates.

A lot of time and frustration would be spared.

My last few years have been on projects with no-estimation. It has been a lot more productive. And less frustrating.

Unimpressed man

Photo from Pxfuel. Public Domain

Impatient. Less theatre

Maybe a lot of these issues is due to that I seem to get more impatient as I get older, not less. With having kids and a lot more experience you would have thought I would be more mellow and understanding.

But I am not.

I really can not stand all the unnecessary theatre that happens all the time. I have no desire to waste any energy on that.

Go JITP! Boo What-if!

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