Not another meeting!

I see two major problems happen with project meetings: there are too many or there are too few. I know from painful experience how likely either case is to make a project manager unsuccessful. How can we get the balance right?

Some project managers spend their whole day in meetings that add little value. Why? Because that is what the organisation expects: team meetings, stakeholder meetings, progress meetings, milestone reviews, meetings to report to more senior managers. While some communication and governance activities need people around a table to make sure that the story of the progress made is factual and not based on unfounded assumptions, many progress reviews simply repeat the sign offs and reports circulated the previous week. Even where there is a reluctance to raise uncomfortable facts or uncertain thoughts except in a meeting, the time that could be used for discussing these is wasted on things the team already knows. There is no time for someone to say, “hang on a minute team, something doesn’t feel right with these results, can we just double-check our assumptions before we sign this off ….”

Those interminable team meetings with senior managers where all the project managers are gathered and one by one are subjected to an inquisition about the state of their project is likely to waste a huge amount of time. This time costs money and wastes opportunities. They are demotivating because they take the project manager away from the project she is responsible for delivering.

At the other end of the scale, some project managers avoid meetings entirely. This risks stakeholders becoming ill-informed or uninvolved. It makes it difficult for the team to understand what is happening around them. Relationships are not built with senior management that could move the project forward. There is little visibility of the project in the wider organisation. The meetings that could help the project manager be informed about other projects or initiatives and opportunities for cooperation are missed.

Is there a cure for both of these ills?

Well the best I can come up with is a checklist:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting and does the agenda reflect that?
  • What do we want to get out of this meeting and how will that take the project forward?
  • Do we really need all these people here: why is each person there and is that a complete list of everyone we need for that purpose?
  • Are the people representing each group sufficiently senior or technical enough to make any decisions we are asking of them (to avoid repeating the meeting with the decision maker)?
  • If people are there so they can be informed, is there another way to inform them without them losing the detail they need?
  • Who will not be involved or informed if we don’t run the meeting and why does that matter?
  • Who is making the arrangements to make the meeting happen on time?
  • If we can’t get everyone we need to the meeting, do we cancel (or postpone) and what will be the consequences?
  • Who is chairing to keep the meeting to the agenda and to get the results in the time available?
  • Who is doing the followup work and recording the results?
  • Is that the right person to get it done quickly, accurately, efficiently and to the correct audience in such a way that they can act on the information?
  • How much is it going to cost the organisation to run this meeting (travel, facilities and everyone’s time; preparation, meeting and followup tasks) and is that value for money?
  • What is the cost to the project if we don’t run this meeting?
  • What will be the impact on the organisation if we don’t run this meeting?

Usually, I don’t like checklists because there is a tendency for people to stop thinking and follow a bureaucratic pathway when we need people to be mindful of what they are doing. I hope this one does help people think about the things they need and if they need the meeting at all.


About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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