Do you cringe when a meeting invite hits your Inbox? Do you feel like you sit in meetings to discuss meetings? Feel like meetings about what needs to get done are getting in the way of things actually getting done? As Project Managers, we are usually calling the majority of these meetings…all of us leverage a mix of the following: requirements gathering meetings, weekly team meetings, design meetings, deep dives, executive updates, and so on. In CNN’s article Best Jobs in America Money, IT Project Management was ranked the 5th best career and its biggest drawback …“Hours (and hours and hours) of meetings.”
I would like you to consider something as we move forward. If you hosted a 1hr meeting with 10 people and the average annual salary was $80,000 USD, that 1 meeting cost $392.16 Imagine now 6 months of a standard weekly project meeting with that team. The cost to the project would be $9,411.76 – to discuss status. I think downloading this calculator and running on the projector would remind the PM of the costs and really get people to call imperative, efficient meetings. Meet or Die is also a great calculator for illustrating meeting waste, with some humor.
So if we all agree that there are too many meetings, then why do we even have them? Well, there are still some very good reasons to have meetings…kick-off of a new project, final decisions, relationship building, and the fact that we send emails to someone in the next cubicle!
There are countless resources on effective meetings, but I am going to share some that are at the top of my list and those resources that you may find useful in developing your own skills. Many of them have the same list of items. Here we go…
- Not meeting…by effectively leveraging the use of memos and other meeting alternatives, your call for a meeting will be received with open arms. If you are calling meetings to discuss lunch for the next meeting, people will not be mentally engaged when joining your meetings. Can you share a status update in an effective memo? Can you grab the 3 folks needed to make a decision and buy them a cup of coffee in the cafe?
- Invite the right people…we have project teams, but if you don’t have an action item for your marketing rep, then don’t invite them! They will appreciate that you value their time. Don’t just invite people to feel important or you think it is polite.
- Pre-Wire ‘active’ members of the meeting…if they are presenting, if you are delivering a change, etc then you should get 5 minutes with those resources ahead of the meeting. It will help make sure they are ready to present, that they aren’t blind-sided by a change, etc. This will cut down on conflict, streamline decisions, and go a long way with you and your team members’ relationship.
- Develop an agenda & distribute before the meeting…a well prepared agenda will let your team know that your meeting is well thought out and has a purpose/objective. An agenda with action/items, owner, and timing will remind folks to be prepared for their item and allows you to stay on track with your meetings. Nothing is worse than going into a meeting were the host is flipping through their notes to find something to talk about.
- Move from a passive agenda to action oriented agenda. My manager shared a resource called Meeting Excellence: 33 Tools to Lead Meetings That Get Results. Many meetings are simply status discussions…”how is the progress of SIT testing John?” The focus of an action agenda is to focus on results, give pre-meeting work for team members to bring, prioritize the agenda items, and identify the desired results.
- Don’t simply host a meeting…conduct the meeting. You need to listen to the discussion and make sure the discussions are staying on topic, the right questions are being asked, the team is engaged, items are not bloating into design sessions (unless it is of course a design session), and one person is not monopolizing the meeting.
- Provide a plan of action, clear next steps…who owns what? When is the next checkpoint or due date?
- Verify everyone’s understanding. You need to leave time for folks to ask questions and make sure they understand the plan of action. It’s funny, I can tell my 5 year-old son that after that game no more and he will say ok. But if I don’t get him to look at me in the eyes and say “yes dad, this is the last game” then we will undoubtedly have an issue. Get your team members to repeat back to you the action plan as it pertains to them.
- Send meeting minutes that same day to recap and provide written clarity around the discussions. This is also a good time to include some of the periphery players. Remember, you don’t invite them to be polite but you can ‘keep the in the loop’ through effective memos and project communications.
- Lastly, lessons learned should not just be for phase/project closure, but should be incorporated into the operations of your project. You need to check with the team members and make them feel included…Ask them if they feel the meetings are effective? Are the meetings covering the topics they need to hear about? Are the logistics okay (dial-in numbers, facilities, time). This could open a can of worms, but it is good to get feedback to ensure your meeting is not seen as the one can people can catch up on email and youtube browsing during.
One other thing…conflict is going to happen! How many of you have said “I will take silence as agreement?” and then 2 weeks later people seemed confused. A colleague of mine said “conflict is great, because it means people care about what we are working on and are engaged in the meeting.” More on that topic next week.
Here are some other good resources: