Episode 59 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with consultant and author Matt LeMay. Matt is a co-founder and partner at Sudden Compass and author of Agile for Everybody and Product Management in Practice, both for O’Reilly. In this conversation, Matt shares with us One Page / One Hour, his pledge to make project collaboration more agile.

The interview kicked off with a discussion of Matt’s background in music, and how it relates to product management. Musicians in a band must think beyond their individual desires (“make my instrument louder in the mix!”) to what benefits the band as a whole. This ethos also applies to product development:

If everybody has their feature that they want to build, if everybody wants to highlight their own individual contributions, you very quickly get to a point where the thing you’re building no longer makes any sense. Where if you can’t prioritize, if you can’t think systematically and then think structurally about how everybody’s contributions come together to create something new and meaningful, then you wind up with something which is just a collection of features, or a collection of ideas that really don’t coalesce into something interesting or powerful, or that solves a problem.

Knowing what to keep out is as important as knowing what to include:

both in music creation and in software product management, you really learn to recognize the power of subtraction. That the most meaningful work you can do is often subtractive work, not additive work. That constraints and subtractions and blank spaces are really what define the work that you’re doing more so than features and additions and things that you add in.

This discussion served as the perfect introduction to One Page / One Hour, Matt’s subtractive technique for more effective collaboration. In his work, Matt recognized a tendency to overproduced deliverables. In response, he

wrote up this pledge to my business partners saying I’m willing to forego the sense of individual accomplishment that comes from presenting finished and polished deliverables to my colleagues. I promise that I will spend no more than one page and one hour working on any deliverable — any document — before I bring it to the team. In other words, if I show up with five beautifully formatted pages or a one-page that took me 10 hours to create, I want you to hold me accountable to that.

The result is a more agile approach to collaboration. I also asked Matt about communication practices suited to this approach, and he brought up the “synchronous sandwich,”

an asynchronous pre-read, a synchronous meeting, and an asynchronous follow-up. In other words, you send something through as a pre-read, using a lot of these same concepts. So, you time box how long you expect somebody to take to send the pre-read and how long it will take them to read the pre-read. Then you work through the document or do something synchronously together, and then you send through a follow-up or a revised copy of that deliverable or whatever it is afterwards.

I was inspired by talking with Matt to think of ways to make my work more agile. I hope you get as much value from our conversation as I did.

The Informed Life episode 59: Matt LeMay on One Page / One Hour