Microspeak: Placemat review


A term that is gaining currency at Microsoft is placemat review. I was unfamiliar with this term, so I asked around.

A placemat review is a meeting which gives upper management detailed status on a feature that is of critical importance. The meeting covers topics such as what progress has been made since the last review, what obstacles are preventing progress from taking place, what teams have been involved in resolving those obstacles, and how the feature is proceeding against its schedule.

There's also a somewhat more cynical definition of a placemat review: A placemat review is a way for upper management to manage a feature that is in trouble. The threat of a periodic review forces the team to be more explicit in monitoring its progress, identifying obstacles, and engaging other teams to help clear those obstacles.

Without this threat of review, the feature team may simply declare, "Oh, we can't make progress until team Y gives us the ability to do Z." But the reality of the obstacle may be that nobody on team Y has been informed of this need. Or that team Y has already provided the ability to do Z, but the feature team didn't realize it.

I have yet to find anyone who can provide an etymology for the term placemat review.

Comments (18)
  1. Alfred says:

    Is "gaining currency" also Microspeak?

    1. No, it's linguistic nerdspeak.

        1. Alfred says:

          Oh, as in becoming current, not money.

          Thanks.

  2. Mike says:

    I would have thought 'placemat review' would be an informal update, something done over lunch, drawings on the back of the placemat.

  3. So when I first saw the headline I read "placement review", which is a thing in electronics. Then when I read the summary I saw what it really said. That said before I actually clicked through I was expecting the etymology to have to do with a drawing on a placemat. (IIRC the story of the original Compaq portable involves a drawing on a placemat.)
    After clicking through though I have no idea where that usage might have come from :)

  4. Mike says:

    My guess is that "placemat" implies "informal" or "unstructured", in the same way as drawing a quick sketch on a placemat.

  5. AsmGuru62 says:

    Etymology may be here:
    "call someone on the carpet (or placemat)" = CHEW them OUT!

  6. morlamweb says:

    It seems to me that "management review" gets the point across more clearly than "placemat review"; but oh, silly me, thinking that language and grammar is meant to communicate ideas clearly...

    1. Dave says:

      >oh, silly me, thinking that language and grammar is meant to communicate ideas clearly…

      You must be new to the Microspeak feature ;)

      1. morlamweb says:

        @Dave: no, I've read nearly all of Raymond's posts on Microspeak; that still doesn't stop me from lamenting the use of language to confuse and complicate matters rather than to effectively communicate information.

  7. cheong00 says:

    Emmm... I thought when the feature team need team Y to provide Z to continue, they should add that to progress tracker as dependency item and their PM should modify the Gantt Chart to reflect that dependency addition. The idea should be carried forward without the need for a meeting session, unless the point is to point fingers.

    1. Sure, Z is on the feature team's Gantt chart, but is it on Team Y's Gantt chart? (Why would it be? It's not on team Y's agreed-upon list of deliverables.) Or maybe the issue is simply "We think it's a bug in Z, so we asked team Y to look at it." Do you create a deliverable for that? Or the problem could just be that the feature team is disorganized.

      1. cheong00 says:

        It depends. If both team uses the same ticket tracking system, the original team filing workitem for Team Y will be seen by Team Y, and the staff responsible for assigning task for Team Y should assign it to someone there. It works even better if the PM is responsible for assigning tasks (which is common for small to mid sized SI firms).

  8. At Atlassian, we have a similar system we call Project Central and of course, it's all managed through JIRA. But the idea is for each issue to represent a project and is provide regular updates and has a custom workflow to quickly glance if a project is off track or not.

  9. DWalker07 says:

    Someone at MS should do a placemat review of this new feature in Windows 10 preview builds, and they should ask Raymond "what if everyone did this?" ::

    "When an app window enters compact overlay mode it’ll be shown above other windows so it won’t get blocked." How many windows can be shown above other windows? :-)

    From https://blogs.windows.com/windowsexperience/2017/02/08/announcing-windows-10-insider-preview-build-15031-pc/#AuRCrlVG7ohG0HO1.97 under "What’s new in Build 15031".

    1. They fight it out the same way the WS_EX_TOPMOST windows fight things out: The user picks the winner. (In other words, more precise phrasing would be "above other non-compact-overlay windows." But this was a casual discussion, not a formal specification.)

      1. Joshua says:

        Sound is the answer, and sage is the wisdom, and placated is the troll.

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