Revamping the QBR Process: How Web Forms Can Transform Your Meetings
Originally published at https://www.processdebt.com/
Recently, I went through a round of Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR). Of course, it has a "New and Improved" format. It was Q4, so it was the fourth new format this year. I followed the rules, kept my document to 3 pages, and followed the new format. During the QBR, half the people followed the old format, and some were a couple of quarters behind. The person who was the star of the QBR used the wrong format and also wrote a fictional novel three times the page limit. I left dejected with more questions than answers and wondered if I should take a class in fiction writing. With AI being the rage, it would need to be a class in Science Fiction. That might do the trick.
I shouldn't be surprised by the QBR the rollercoaster, yet it pisses me off. These presentations have no purpose except completing the meeting. I fully understand the value of knowledge transfer between the management layers of an organization. So why does it seem like a sales presentation of big numbers but no value? They can be a crazy cycle where it is constantly changing because it is ineffective, AND it is ineffective because it is constantly changing. Why waste everyone's time? Why keep having a crappy QBRs?
A Typical QBR in 7 easy and confusing steps
- New Shiny Business Process: I am baffled at how many "New and Improved" changes appear randomly.
- Frustration: Not knowing who the audience is and needing to understand the objective of the QBR.
- Presentation: with the accompanying empty feeling that can only come from that "What the hell am I doing? I hope I don't have to answer any questions."
- Answering Questions: with numbers that you couldn't reproduce next quarter.
- Feedback: More work based on your need for more defending the questions above. Even though you have explained the topic multiple times, it still needs to sink in. Maybe you didn't include the latest acronym. It is hard to know.
- Rushing to get through it all: The last three presentations are in a rush. The first one is concise because they saw this coming. The second is a mess; the third person doesn't care about the time and takes the meeting into the next hour while everyone drops.
- Wondering if the action items were suggestions or work that needed completion.
But here's the thing: Was the objective of the QBR met, was the purpose known? Was the system improved? What happened? Maybe the executives learned something and were better informed, or tall tales were told and believed. I have seen too many times that the best storyteller wins the day, even though he is not playing fair. They won the day with their potential billion-dollar idea, like billion-dollar ideas from the breakroom vending machine. The rest of us live to fight another day, or we should search the job listings on LinkedIn.
Form a QBR Solution - The Pre and Post QBR
QBRs are an Infinite Problem, needed by the Business in some shape or form forever. So why don't we fix them? The problem with Infinite Problems is we don't think of them as a process but an outcome. Therefore, the QBR's product ends up being the meeting rather than the knowledge transfer, planning, or decision-making. Thus, QBRs perpetuate the collective business confirmation bias.
Forming a new QBR
If you are lucky, your QBRs have a standard format, and if you are not lucky, it is Quarterly Russian roulette. Either way, it is time to consider rebuilding the process on the back of a good old web form. The owner has an idea of what they want, and the best way to do this is to add the structure only a web form can provide. Therefore, ask these questions in a Microsoft Form or any other web form. The benefit of this approach is that everyone has to abide by the form structure. The responses can have character limitations, and forms can branch based on responses from the user. For example, if you are asking for revenue prediction, then ask for the sources and calculations and put the goals in a drop-down if you want to know what objectives are aligned. One of the benefits of using a form is that you can review the last quarter's information next quarter. Then, put your data in a pivot table or have an admin add the data to PowerPoint, and not only is your QBR ready to go, but everyone is on the same page.
Your new QBR process will make it more rigid, but it will also allow for easy improvements. So you are convinced and have decided to make a change. What should you expect? People will hate it, and the first round will be so bad you want to give up. People might threaten to quit. Explain the process and the owners of the planned Post-QBR review. Assigning process owners and committing to the Pre and Post-QBR Review will improve it quickly. Remember that most change is terrible, and this won't be if you take a long-term approach.
Post QBR Review
QBR Peer Review
QBRs are mostly for knowledge transfer and a way for managers, directors, and executives to gain insight into the inner workings of the Business. However, this is also a time for peers to hear their colleagues' work. The challenge is that everyone but managers plays an active role. Not getting peer feedback is a lost opportunity to gain insight from front-line employees. To get the feedback, have the QBR attendees rank the Business Impact of the work of their peers. Make sure people can't vote on their areas because this should be a review of the others' work. The best way to do this is with a Post-QBR form.
QBR Process Review
For the owner of the QBR, this is also an excellent time to update the form for next quarter and make it better based on what you have learned. If you look at this like an infinite problem, the QBR Process review is the key. The objective is to tweak the QBR Form, so it does a better job of capturing the needed data. These changes should be evident after the process is followed. Usually, the changes to any process are numerous and evident during the initial implementation. Don't be shocked by the number of change requests, but filter these requests through this question, "Will we be doing this in 3 years." If you think it is a long-term change, make the change!
Tweak the form, rinse, and repeat.
The key to successful process change is assigning the sole owners of the process.
- Pre QBR
- Form Creator/Owner
- Form Presenter - The person who takes the form data and makes the data meeting ready
- Meeting timer - If someone is supposed to present in 5 minutes, cut them off at five and a half minutes.
- Action Item Scribe - These will be important for the Post QBR team because some changes will change the process.
- Action Item review
- Are they universal changes? Consider changing the QBR Form
- Is this required, or was it a suggestion - You will need to prioritize with the QBR Owner
- If Required: Schedule follow-ups or make changes to the QBR form
- If it is a suggestion: These should only actioned if they come up multiple times.
- QBR Owner Peer Review - Take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd
- QBR Process Changes - Make changes to the form based on feedback
The QBR process shouldn't be some generic presentation that people can hack and deceive people with elegance. Work on the Process of QBRs to get better and more aligned with your company's objectives.