PM basics: Make your project meetings work for you
Most of us don't like meetings very much. We see them as getting in the way of 'real work'. And often, when we do attend meetings, we have our laptop or tablet with us to 'take notes' but we may in fact be doing other 'real work' we have going on and paying very little attention to the active discussion, just listening loosely and trying to catch if we hear our name called so we aren't too embarrassed if we're caught out. Does this sound familiar? I'm a project manager and on one very, very routine remote customer weekly status call where I was playing only a support role and I knew I didn't need to be involved in much of the project discussion I admit I actually fixed the hinges on one of my laptops during the meeting... multi-tasking at it's best. But I wouldn't recommend that for everyone!
However, if you want to be the person who has the best meetings, gets the most accomplished during those meetings and gets people in the seats week in and week out, there are a few steps you need to follow for your meetings. Doing so will put you in a meeting facilitator class by yourself and, in my opinion and from my experience, the four key steps for that are:
Plan the agenda and carefully consider who you need info from
It all starts with good planning and a proper agenda. Know what you want to and need to accomplish. From that you should know who you need to have in attendance. Usually, on a project it will be most or all of the project team on both sides – delivery team and customer team. But there may be other key stakeholders or senior management you need to consider inviting in order to get the right assignments or decisions made at any given meeting. Don't just default to a list. The last thing you want to do is to fail to get something accomplished just because you forgot to invite the right person. Don't waste people's time. Their time is as important as yours.
Distribute the agenda and materials in advance for maximum participation and productivity
Next, get the agenda and any necessary accompanying materials out to individuals in advance of the meeting. While these steps can apply to just about any business meeting you can think of, for a project these materials will probably include the up-to-date project schedule, the resource forecast, current budget information and forecast, and other lists like issues, change orders and risks.
Stay on schedule
This one is big if you want to build your reputation as someone who manages efficient and worthwhile meetings. Don't cancel, don't start late, don't run over. Trust me, it will help your meeting facilitator reputation and future attendance. Avoid afternoon meetings when people are tired after lunch – people tend to load up on carbs and then pass out during meetings. You need to stick to a schedule and not hold up everything to bring the late comers up to speed. Avoid doing that and they will stop coming late. And even if you have very little new news at a regular weekly status meeting, don't cancel. Take five minutes and at least go around the room to get any updates or information – you never know when the smallest piece of information that would otherwise fall through the cracks can stop a scope management problem, saving the project thousands of pounds. Plus, canceling meetings will cause people to stop coming to the regular meetings on a regular basis.
Follow up with notes and revisions
This step is critical to ensuring everyone is on the same page. You may think you covered everything but there is likely someone out there who interpreted what you, or someone, said differently than you did. Distribute the agenda with updated notes and assignments/outcomes to everyone and ask for their feedback/revisions or concurrence within 24 hours. Then, if appropriate, redistribute. This is the best way to make sure everyone has the same information when the meeting is over.
Summary / call for input
A well orchestrated meeting can do a lot of work for you. You can get solid attendance and participation, key decisions can be made, and people will show up for assignments meaning you won't be trying to track them down afterwards. Most meetings aren't well run, and the after work for the project manager ends up being as much time and effort as having one or two more meetings. Don't let that be you. Follow these steps and let the meeting and participants do the work for you while you gain the reputation as someone who's meetings are meaningful and should not be skipped.
Readers – what are your thoughts on these steps? Do you agree? What would you add or change? What seems to work best for you?