Does it sometimes seem that your life is a constant trudge from one project meeting to the next. It’s as if there’s little time to do anything before the next one.
And, if that’s not bad enough, how many of your project meetings are truly worthwhile?
I know we say ‘good meeting’ at the end of them, but we don’t mean it. What we mean is ‘that wasn’t a great meeting’.
But it is because you spend so much time in project meetings and because they have such a potential to be an important part of a successful project, that you need to learn how to run a really great project meeting.
I recently wrote about project meetings in a weekly newsletter, titling it ‘Good Project Meetings don’t Happen by Chance’. That got a good response, so I thought I’d expand on it.
I started the newsletter by asserting that ‘we’ve all seen the endless tip lists for good meetings’. But maybe you have not. There are a lot of them out there, so let’s start with the basics. I will summarize all the sound and sensible meeting tips you’ll get from the numerous articles on the web.
I would hope that, of all people, you don’t need this tip. You’re a Project Manager. Of course your project meeting will have an objective.
But the key is to and make sure everyone you invite to the meeting knows it. This will help because they will be better able to:
There are some project meeting formats that don’t need – nor should they have – an agenda in advance. I used to run a fortnightly top-team meeting on a large project called the Working Group. I’d form the agenda on a whiteboard, while we poured coffees. The meeting’s objective was to resolve the most pressing current issues. So our ‘in advance’ agenda was to work through the issues. But we formed the real agenda there and then to make it completely up-to-date. After listing the topics, we’d vote on priorities, and work through them in sequence, until our 90 minutes were up. Five minutes before the end, we’d share out any unresolved issues to work on offline.
But, to be fair, most meetings do need an agenda, and you should issue it in advance. It needs to:
I hope this goes without saying. What people often forget is that this doesn’t just mean remembering to invite all the right people. It also means th discipline to only invite the right people. Be ruthless in cutting down the numbers. You will:
Really? It all feels a bit ‘consultanty’. I prefer to assume we’re all pretty adult, but if there are bad behaviors, I’ll just gently remind people. However, I know that in some cultures, you’ll need to establish a set of ground rules for your project meetings, so here are the sort of things to cover:
Ground rules or not, this one is a big one for me – although I am aware it is not as important in some cultures. I do know one senior manager who retrained his team to arrive on time, by locking the door just before starting.
If you are going to impose respect for the start time, you must also be prepared to respect people’s other commitments, and finish on time
If you cannot attend, does your project meeting go ahead anyway?
If it does, I’d call it a ‘Project Team Meeting’.
If you cancel a meeting you can’t attend, then I’d call it a ‘Project Manager Meeting’.
If you are running a meeting it is your responsibility that everyone you invited participates in the conversation.
The value of everyone participating is three-fold. You get their:
It is important to stay focused if you want to use your time well, and keep people’s attention.
So, if someone introduces a peripheral topic to what you are discussing, record it publicly on a board. This often gets the label ‘Parking Lot’. Later in the meeting, assess whether the new topic is important and urgent enough to merit a change in agenda, so you can consider it. If not, at the end of the meeting, review your parking lot items and allocate them to meeting participants, to tackle.
At the end of each substantive chunk of discussion, summarize:
I like to record actions on a board for everyone to see. And I also like to assign them at the point we agree the action.
Keep your meeting moving, so people don’t get bored and mentally check out.
AOB: Any Other Business.
Some people love it as a mechanism for tackling hot topics that have cropped up since you set the agenda, or during the meeting.
Others deprecate AOB as a fix for sloppy agenda-setting.
Whatever your preference, for project meetings, I like to allocate a short spot at the end of my meetings for anyone to ask any questions. I usually constrain the questions to ensure there is real value, by saying something like:
Are there any questions that are best answered by this group of people, here and now, before we all leave?’
This frames them as pressing and important questions that need us all to be there.
I also like to finish early, so people have some time before their next commitment for any one-on-one conversations.
Make a record of the meeting, but keep it short and sweet: ‘minutes for action’:
Then, crucially, if it’s your meeting, then it’s your responsibility to chase-up the actions.
A lot of my readers with a fair bit of project experience wil be thinking:
Been there, done that!’
All these tips assume that your project meeting follows a pretty standard pattern.
But how often do you sit down, in a quiet place, with enough time, and design your project meetings?
If I said you need to facilitate a two-day workshop, I would expect you to set-aside between two and ten days to design and plan it.
It’s important. Maybe 6 to 12 people will commit a couple of days of their time. And the workshop needs to produce results.
But project meetings? They’re just an hour…
90 minutes at most.
Let’s say they are an hour a month.
…or maybe an hour a fortnight.
…or perhaps even an hour a week.
This is a reasonable average for the sort of business projects I used to run. Maybe it is for you, too.
And I’ll assume you have a modest project team of six people, who meet monthly.
And that each meeting lasts an hour each time…
That’s over 100 staff hours.
That’s about the same as those six people attending a two-day workshop.
For many projects, these numbers are on the low-side, so you can substitute your own numbers.
A project meeting is just a series of conversations. Your job then, is to figure out what conversations you’ll need, and then work out how you will ensure that the conversationcan flow smoothly and achieve the outcome you need in as efficient a way as possible.
There are three common requirements that all your conversations will need:
These are the conversations you need, when your goal is creative thinking, innovation, or problem solving.
These are analytical conversations that test and validate ideas, and take decisions.
These are conversations where you make progress and get things done.
These are conversations that build and strengthen relationships among team members. They are also the type of conversation where you will relay high-quality information. This must go beyond the simple information that you can as easily transmit by email, slack,or collaboration-tool.
These are the kind of meetings we have because… we have always had them. They don’t serve any real purpose. If they ever did, everyone has forgotten what it was. We now go along to each meeting knowing it will be a waste of our time. And we leave them realising that it was, and we should have had the courage to decline the invitation.
You have two choices if you are responsible for a project meeting that is nothing more than a conversation for ritual:
To be fair, though. These ritual meetings are far more common in the business-as-usual parts of organizations. Projects and Prokject managers tend to maintain a far greater level of focus. But we can all slip-up from time-to-time!
Do share your thoughts and experiences below. We’d love to hear your tips for what makes a great project meeting.
There are an awful lot of same-old, same-old articles on meetings, around the web. They pretty much cover the some or all of the Tips for a Good Meeting above. But, I did find one article that I thought is excellent and a little different. So, do check out ‘The secrets to running project status meetings that work!’ by Dana Brownlee at PMI.org.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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