Organizing Your First Lunch and Automate Meeting

I thought I would take a lighter topic this week and talk about how to organize a “lunch and automate” meeting. Even if we’re not all face to face right now, with most people working from home, the idea is the same, and I hear of lots of MSPs that still do these meetings over lunch using video conferencing.

Why should you do this?

First let’s discuss why you should do this (if you’re not already). In a lot of the courses that I teach, the blog articles I write, and the face-to-face meetings I have with partners, I often talk about how important it is to listen to your techs when it comes to increasing efficiency—and in particular building automation policies. Your techs see the tickets that come in and know the pain points from doing things by hand all the time. Listening to them is a great way to improve your company. From a tech perspective, it’s a great way to share what your pain points are to help improve your workday.

The “lunch and automate” session is just another great way to get your team together and discuss what can be improved and can be a great brainstorming session.

Who should attend?

So now that we know why we want to do this, who should attend? Often, I hear that when MSPs do this, they only include the senior team members (L2/L3/NOC). Personally, I find that inviting as many people as possible is best, and that between five and 15 people is the sweet spot. However, inviting only senior members and excluding the frontline techs is not something I recommend. Frontline techs may not have the solution, but they will have the issues to be discussed in those meetings, and the techs who are great at automating will be able to take it in and find resolution.

Another option—if you want to limit it to the senior team—is to ask the rest of the team to write down their issues or pain points so they can be discussed in the meeting.

How often should you have these meetings?

I typically see partners do this every week, every two weeks, or monthly. Since it is typically done over lunch, and the cost is minimal since it would be the cost of pizza or whatever lunch you ordered for the team, it is good to do this often. To start, I would recommend doing it every other week and adjust up or down based on how much content you need to review based on your discussions.

It is good to ask the technicians to make lists of things that cause them pain ahead of time. It could be “I have to login to this computer every week to do x,” or “I get this ticket every day and the fix is y,” or anything else in between.

It’s also good to designate a person as the note taker, as lots of topics and issues will get discussed, and some people will offer solutions. We usually see this as a revolving role between the different attendees.

What should you discuss?

So now we’ve got people in a room (or maybe a virtual room while working remotely), pizza on the table, and a bunch of ideas; what’s next? We want to guide a discussion. I’ve sat in many of these meetings with partners, and usually the conversation just happens and it gets very interesting, very quickly. It works well to use a roundtable format in which each person proposes a problem and then solutions are contributed by other attendees. If multiple solutions are proposed, it is good to explore them all, which is why I recommend you take notes. Typically, the lunch meeting isn’t meant to actually build automation due to the time available, but to set out what needs to be or can be built.

Oftentimes topics will run out. If this happens, it’s good to have a few things up your sleeve to discuss. You might want to ask questions like the ones below. This is far from an exhaustive list, but will give you something to start with:

  • If you were to pick one task you do periodically to get rid of, what would it be?
  • What tickets do you see come up often or repeatedly?
  • Do you find some false positives in the alerting?
  • What self-healing do you feel could be done?

Once you finish the meeting, take the notes and try to assign action items to review before the next meeting. This means you also will need to assign some work hours to this, but this pays dividends in productivity, so it’s worth exploring. By the next meeting, you’ll be able to review what has been done, and what the team wants to do next. The more you do it, the more they’ll get excited about it and the more they’ll propose.

This is a great way to motivate your team members to think outside the box, allow them some creative freedom, take away some of the annoyances of their day, and give them a free lunch. All in, this is a win-win situation. I can’t recommend it enough. This works for other topics too. You could do it around office efficiency, your PSA, processes, etc. Experiment and get the benefits from it.

If you have suggestions as to other things to add to this, please reach out to me directly at [email protected] or on twitter at @automation_nerd 

If you have created an automation policy and would like to share it with the community, please feel free to email me at [email protected] 

As always, don’t forget to go look in the Automation Cookbook at www.solarwindsmsp.com/cookbook if you are interested in other automation policies, script checks, and custom services.

Marc-Andre Tanguay is head automation nerd. You can follow him on Twitter at @automation_nerd.

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