Breakout: How to be a good chair

31 Oct 2012

See also: IRC log




<scribe> scribe: Matt

Being a Good Chair

chaals: Being a chair is about being passionate.
... Let's do introductions. I chair the Web Apps group, and just agreed to chair an HTML TF.

Eric_Velleman: I'm Eric Velleman, chair of the WCAG 2.0 Evaluation Methodology Task Force

Headley: Interested in the skills involved in chairing.

Florent: I am a Working Group member

<dF> I am David Filip with UL

<dF> co-chair of MultilingualWeb-LT, working on ITS 2.0

koalie: I am Coralie, W3C, interested in learning to be a group chair.

Olivier: I am the chair of the Audio WG and new chair of a TF in the Web and TV IG. Interested in being a better chair, but also looking for a co-chair in the Audio WG.

matt: I'm Matt Womer, W3C Staff. I chaired groups right before they were put down.

sandro: I'm W3C staff too, and I oversee 14 chairs, and need to know what to tell them.

Leonie_Watson: chair of accessibiity bug triage

Ralph: I'm w3c staff too, interested in what it takes to be a good chair.

Virgine_Galindo: I am chair of the Web Crypto group

<sandro> Daniel Glazman


<Ralph> Chun-Ming

<koalie> JC Verdié, also

Melvin Carvalho: Chair of the read-write Web CG. 60 people hacking the web, about 20 active, the rest are participating less, looking to increase participation.

Philip: Just joined, not a chair yet, but interested.

Antony: I'm from Synacor, we haven't joined yet, but I am interested in getting people to work together well.

chaals: Number 1 rule as chair is don't let a session go longer than an hour. We stick to this strictly in the Web Apps Group. After an hour, people lose interest, get snaky, etc. Might as well let them go. We need people to get something out of that hour.
... In Web Apps we had 150 people, that means 1 minute cost $1,000, roughly. So your joke better be pretty funny at that price.
... So, you better have some idea of what your outcome should be.
... W3C groups work by mail, teleconferences and f2fs. Almost all groups have some of those. Good for different things. What's good for a f2f, and what's good for email? The chair is the person who shapes where the discussion takes place, and how the agenda gets resolved.
... Thinking about that and getting it right is useful.
... 80/20 rule here is 20% of the people do 80% of the work.
... Don't worry about it, it's good to get more participation, but it's a universal rule.
... The chair is responsible for making the group work, getting participation, etc, but be aware that won't always happen.

<sandro> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle (80-20 rule)

olivier: I've seen the 80/20, but do you focus on letting the 20% do that work, or focus on the 80% and get them working.

daniel: I think the 80/20 rule is wrong. A large group with roughly 100 participants --

chaals: what can we learn from that?

daniel: My group was called a supergroup. We have so many documents on the radar that people are specializing in those areas. Everyone contributes in the working group. We have 100% participation.

<sandro> Ralph: Lesson is to parition and let people work in parallel

HadleyBeeman: It depends on the agenda of the call, and the context. In your WG you've got modularization, but I'm conscious while chairing that a sub-group may need space to talk things through. Whether the call is the right place is a question, but it's an on-the-fly balancing act.

David_Filip: I don't care if it's 80/20, I just care that my scope is there and covered. You ask about the cost of a joke, but is your scope and goals right? You don't have to care if it's 80/20 or not, but if you cover your scope and goals it's fine.

chaals: Having a work environment and setting conditions is a good thing to do. I've gotten sucked into being a chair by accident, and been given a setup as is, several times.
... I don't know that 80/20 is a real problem. The fact that they're sitting silently isn't necessarily a problem, you have to get your objectives achieved, produce specs, hit your deliverables, rather than making everyone feel happy. Making them happy is a means to an end. The goal is whatever the charter says.
... There are a few things you can do to get participation. I let 20% work on, and do what HadleyBeeman does, which is occasionally get them to put what they're doing in front of the wider group.
... The 80% don't read what the 20% are writing, so getting them to sign-off isn't very useful.
... If they refuse to read it, fine, but presenting it to them...

sandro: There's a few different perspectives: chair says "Who wants to do this?", the other perspective is the chair spends an hour on the phone with each person and convinces them to do it in private.
... I think the individual attention pays off in the long run, but most chairs don't want to put that much effort in.

Melvin: : I feel like people want to volunteer but they don't. Do you have some advice as to how you balance...

chaals: I tend to ask for a scribe, ask for an editor of some spec, ask for a test facilitator, "will anyone volunteer?"

<sandro> (Not so much "convinces them to do it in private" but "finds out what they want to do")

chaals: That tends to lead to silence, after 20 seconds or so I ask them to think about it and talk to me later. Sometimes people put their hands up, and others just edge up, wanting to be picked, I talked to them later.

Eric_Velleman: There are also people who always volunteer, which I find difficult for a larger group.

Ralph: I'd like to steer the discussion in a different direction. We could make this discussion a litany of problems, or we could get best practices from Chaals.

sandro: I want to go a level higher than that and ask what the follow-on is, as we can't do this in an hour.

chaals: The follow-up is the report. It's up to the group to discuss what happens next.
... It is important not to let someone volunteer for everything if they can't do it.
... At some point you have to say stop, you won't do it without running out of time. Getting a lazy person on the edge to do something is often not worth the effort, you get a second rate solution.

<melvster> +present Melvin Carvalho

chaals: The conclusion I see is that this isn't a big problem, not something to worry about. There ways to get more involved, and sometimes you should get the 80% to see what the 20% have done, so you get useful info out of them.


chaals: My general advice for a WG is to get a co-chair.
... Art Barstow is my co-chair and does a phenomenal amount of work. Talking to your co-chair is a best practice. Agree with them on who is going to do what. Shouldn't need long formal meetings with them.
... Make sure you the co-chair agree on decisions, or who is going to make the decision.


chaals: How do you decide how much time something deserves? It's really easy to pick a thing like the fact that your group has a lot of lazy people and spend all your time talking about it --

olivier: One problem I am seeing a lot is that we're supposed to have milestones, I don't lose sleep about it, but in terms of time, I know how to manage a project, and know how to manage time for that thing, but there is so much that is uncertain that managing time in the long run is completely impossible.

virginie_galindo: My experience is that I'm changing the milestones every month and keeping my group informed of that.

<koalie> Matt_Womer: Quarterly estimate, rather, is what I advise, as it's still ok

matt: We also have in our charters, boilerplate that says where your up-to-date milestone dates will be.

chaals: For most of what we do there is no real external timing pressure. In Web Apps we estimate in the charter itself it and have a page of all of our deliverables and where we think it's going. There's a few different pieces of data, where is it in the process, tests, what's next to happen.
... Any time you can pin down a date, you should. Q1 means 1st of April, Q2 is before July holidays, Q3 before TPAC and Q4 after the Christmas Holidays.

[[monthly estimates for the summer *always* fail]]

chaals: As a member I take on commitments and want to get them done, but things get busy, this happens to everyone. Picking the person who does the work, know who is reliable, helps you estimate.
... Some people put their hand-up for a big piece and then next year it's not done, but say "Well, I'll do it now", and four years later it's not done. Some people put up their hand for a small piece of work and often promise what they deliver, but then you need to figure out the next step.

David_Filip: For timeline management, it's best to have external pressure, if you don't it's impossible to get anything done.

chaals: Where there is some pushing goal it tends to be easy. In my scenarios it doesn't happen.
... In some cases it's "we will wait for what it takes", and in others "we don't care if the spec isn't done, we're implementing".

David_Filip: If you want to make a spec, you always need to switch to calendar dates.

chaals: Having calendar driven stuff is fine when you've got cutoffs like "if you don't have it by now, it goes in v2", that sometimes works. Sometimes external pressure just doesn't exist.
... How do you deal with roadblocks? Sometimes specs just keep rolling along. One of the roadblocks is that editors vanish.
... We as chairs are reluctant to hassle editors. We think we're being mean to say "You should give up editing this spec, give it up for this month". It's helpful to develop a culture of "the editor is doing the work, and if they're not doing the work, they're in the way of the group". It's not morally wrong for them to step aside or take on a co-editor.
... I've seen a lot of reluctance to change the editor.
... There's no stigma to thanking them for their contribution and moving on to another editor.

What to do Where

chaals: WebApps doesn't have teleconferences. Someone came to me and said "Can I talk about this idea in a teleconference?", but there wouldn't be anyone there. It does a lot of tech work by email and in a lot of cases that works out.
... No one will do teleconferences, no one will show up for them. We tried a couple of times and indeed when we've had them, no one came.
... We do have f2f meetings. Tend to be useful for stuff where we don't know how to go forward at all.
... WebIDL for instance has been spinning around and around, blocking other W3C work.

virginie_galindo: How often does WebApps meet?

chaals: Twice a year.

matt: Were you suggesting you'd like to meet more?

chaals: If I could get people to show up and be productive I would think yes. 4 would be the maximum.
... Meetings can sometimes be a distraction from doing work. Spend an hour talking about old actions, reviewing minutes, etc. If that hour was spent writing two emails you might have moved forward an appreciable amount.
... A meeting can provide pressure. If you have an agenda and good minutes and an impression that people should take on action items. The meeting might just be the incentive to get people to do their action the hour before.
... That wouldn't fly in WebApps.

matt: That has worked for me in the past. The hour before the meeting is a flood of mails of people getting action items done so as not to have to say it's not done.

chaals: The one hour rule has helped a lot. If you need to talk more, take a break. Those that really care about it will talk about it after the break. If at the end of the hour, you haven't gotten anything concrete, then that is the best time in the world to stop.
... When you stop, the four people talking about it go outside, talk about it a bit more, they go to dinner, have a few beers, talk it out, and come in the next day for an hour of misery and pain and they say "actually, we figured it out last night".
... Otherwise they stay in the room, keep talking, and get nastier and never solve it.


chaals: in brief: don't keep people in a room, use different kinds of meetings and events for whatever you can get out of them.

How do you deal with trolls

daniel: Depends on the troll, too many things to generalize. Sometimes you need to clash, sometimes you need to talk f2f, and sometimes you need to shout and say this is enough.
... Sometimes it's not the individual but the member org.

chaals: Dealing with a member that wants to sabotage things?

daniel: No, two different people pushing two different strategies. It can be divergent priorities in the same document. It can be a member refusing something in the charter because of IPR.
... Generalizing a solution is just impossible.

matt: Isn't a troll someone who just does this for kicks, rather than more legit reasons like IPR?

chaals: A problem is a problem is a problem, an interaction problem needs thinking about how to resolve it…
... motivation shouldn't be ascribed.

Leonie_Watson: Doesn't motivation influence your approach to resolving it?

chaals: OK, motivation is a part of it.
... As a chair I try to think about it two ways: it doesn't matter what the person called you, how they behaved, what they said about you behind your back, you're the chair. Your job is to keep on being polite.
... It's best to be nice to people, not to get into arguments about good or bad behavior.
... A chair is trying to do the right thing, trying to get things done, and has moral authority if they act thus.
... The rest of the group will back you up if you do that.
... You also need to be right. Be conservative about using your authority as chair.

David_Filip: Best strategy for dealing with people having problems is to put them together and get them to resolve it. Let them agree on one thing that works for both.

chaals: That's the ideal solution: you two disagree, go away, and explain to us the issue and figured it out.
... When you can do that, and quite often you can, it's more productive. The times they go around politicking for support is not.

David_Filip: When they go to an f2f, you can assume they are there to talk to one another.

chaals: I assume that, but if I let them out of my sight only one comes back.

[[Note: W3C does NOT endorse killing one another over anything]]

chaals: There are cases that are really difficult. When you have a genuine, honest disagreement, WGs resolve that, that's what they do.
... Occasionally I get someone proposing work, get them to lay out use cases, requirements and technical stuff. Then they launch into a "think of the children" speech...
... Stop all of those speeches. We should be able to understand from the use cases and don't need a sales pitch to go with it.
... After you've done that, they don't follow that behavior pattern.
... After you've told someone that a comment is out of line and to apologize, other people say that and mostly learn.
... Don't do it for a vaguely dodgy comment, save it for the strongly dodgy ones.
... We're not here to fight, but to resolve differences.

virginie_galindo: What about the relationship to the staff?

chaals: Like a co-chair, talk to the staff. We actually have a mailing list that is team-webapps that is the chairs and the staff contacts and a few others interested in what we do within the team.
... So we write to each other regularly, depending on the problems.
... Be aware of the role of the chair and the staff contact. Negotiate that. EIther staff or chair can say, publish a doc. It's not a good idea to tell one another what to do.
... Throwing your weight around in the chair/staff relationship is a really good way to cause problems.
... Negotiate how you are going to work together. There are some things that staff can do more easily, and some that chairs can do more easily. Some of the roles overlap, each being able to do some of what the other does.

matt: I second that. I too easily volunteer when things are falling through the cracks, and I am unlikely to get everything done on time as I'm doing that in four other WGs too, so don't abuse me.


<Ralph> Matt: a staff contact who volunteers to do everything when no one else steps up will make the chairs' life hell too because the stuff won't get done on time

chaals: There are heaps of stuff that depend on individuals, but by and large try to avoid that.
... People have different motivations and different paces and goals.

daniel: Top problem you can have is having such a big problem with an individual that you have to ping the AC rep of the group and have them removed.
... I understand it's the ultimate case, but it can happen and you should be ready in such a case.
... Problem was after pinging the w3c about it.

chaals: One of the things you should try to do is talk to the AC rep before.

<Ralph> Matt: some AC reps appreciate the feedback on the contributions -- good or less good -- of their representatives in a Group

daniel: I got a feedback request from the AC rep asking for information to go into their annual review.
... Of course I only mention what's in the group.

chaals: Talk to you group as people. Talk to their peers, talk to their AC rep, and the staff.
... If you are forced into a position where you see no other alternative but to talk to the AC rep negatively, having a prior relationship is a big asset.
... I'll post the minutes, but if the group wants to find a way to do more, let's figure that out as a group.

Ralph: Ian is doing a related topic on the chairs guidebook.

chaals: There is a lot information in the guidebook: http://www.w3.org/Guide/
... No one has really done a revision in a decade. We're updating that with the modern guide effort.

Summary of Action Items

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Got date from IRC log name: 31 Oct 2012
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