Give meetings more value

In an often mentioned study by Industry Week, 2000 managers reported wasting 30 % of their time in meetings, which aligns with the 25-50% found in a 3M Meeting Network survey of executives.

Given that a Harris Interactive study also found that 67% of workers spend 1-4 hours preparing for these “valuable” meetings, I think we need to consider how we should report our projects in a more effective way to management, in order that they will add value to the organisation.

Know what you are doing

I am always interested (well, frustrated really) when I see project managers getting stressed as executive reviews/checkpoints approach.

Extra meetings are scheduled with team members, documents are requested, presentations created and for some, it turns into a mini-project of sorts.

If you are managing your projects effectively and maintaining the project plan (schedule, risks, etc) then you should be able to provide an accurate, current update at any given time.

Pre-wire those effected

All the planning in the world and the most thought out mitigation strategies are not going to prevent scope changes and risk events from occurring.

At some point in your project, you will be approaching management with a change request and/or issue event. If you wait until your status meeting to introduce the topic/issue/change it will shift from a status update to a solution design session.

However, if you ‘pre-wire’ the managers directly affected, then you can head off much of the debate that could derail your status update.

The pre-wire is a quick 5-10 minute meeting in which you let the manager know about the developing issue/change. This provides them with the opportunity to process what you are saying, ask some questions, and discuss a few options.

If you have some alternatives, it gives you an opportunity to float them by him/her and potentially get some buy-in. Then, when you go into the status meeting, you are able to explain the latest development (change/risk), without catching the affected manager off guard, and share the recommendation with support from that manager.

This reduces the ‘design’ discussion, provides confidence to the other managers and also removes the need for that manager to have to go-away, think about it and ‘follow-up.’

Be consistent

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen managers make is their lack of consistency in hosting meetings.

Across dozens of teams and several clients, the question of “Are we still having this meeting today?” has become all too common. Even if the meeting is held, no one knows what to expect, the purpose of the meeting, or what they need to provide.

If you are going to host a weekly meeting or quarterly update, then host it! That said, don’t feel obligated to fill the time if you don’t have enough content. Don’t waste people’s time and don’t let it turn into a design session.

If it is going to be a status meeting, then it should remain a status meeting. Too many project managers become lazy and just ‘wing it’. (Refer to my first point.)

If there is a lull in the project or everything is going well then you can cut it early, but you should still host it. People will come to know what to expect.

Most managers have multiple projects and daily operations to worry about; they hired you to handle the details.

The status update is not your opportunity to walk the managers through your entire project schedule. Of course they may want to dive deep at the outset of the project and may need one for significant changes/risks, but those are not status updates.

Most managers think about dates and dollars, while preferring dashboard type views. Keeping that in mind, I have found the following has proven useful with my clients:

A status update