Exceeding working memory in meetings

At Agile 2017, I participated in an exercise where I was observing people argue each side of a polarising topic, for example, the value of certification, etc.

At some point, given that I was taking notes, I noticed that the debaters had cycled around to repeating points that they had made at the start.

I realised that the debate had exceeded the working memory of the debaters such that they were repeating points because they had forgotten they had already made them.

I proposed representing the argument with a visualisation, in this case a 2x2 matrix, to better summarise the various points raised and focus the discussion.

This phenomenon also happens in meetings.

The next time you’re in a meeting where people are just talking to each other without using some form of visualisation (e.g., recording on whiteboard, live notes projected on screen, etc.), take notes about what is being talked about.

I suspect that you will notice that eventually, the same points are raised again. I suspect you will also notice that it’s usually after 5–7 points (aka limits of human working memory) where this happens.

Senior Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl

Senior Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl