The project manager is the project leader – the person who controls the project, manages the team, the customer, and the flow of the entire project engagement from start to finish. The effective project manager strives to keep his team and his customer and the entire customer team well engaged throughout the project – entirely focused on the end goals of the project.
An integral part of that management process is planning for, conducting, and participating in the regular and adhoc meetings that happen throughout the project. They are a key part of the overall project communication process. The project manager who effectively manages those meetings can keep his team and customer accountable and engaged…while the project manager who turns out to be a poor meeting planner and manager can slowly lose meeting attendance and participation. People are busy and, yes, our project resources have other jobs to do, so it’s imperative that we manage their time well. And part of that is ensuring that the meetings we schedule for them are worthwhile and productive and keep their involvement to a necessary minimum.
How do we do that? For me, it involves following these standard principles for good meeting planning and management…
1. Publish an agenda.
Knowing what to expect helps everyone to prepare. It may be enough – if everyone is familiar with your meeting processes – to just send out a status report in advance of every meeting. As long as all participants understand that this report is the meeting driver and the bullet points on it are basically the agenda from week to week. For non-standard and adhoc meetings, though, you’ll still want to be sure to send out an agenda in advance to all participants. When everyone knows what topics will be discussed, the discussion will be much more productive.
Project meetings that start on time, stick to the time frame, and end on time will keep participants engaged and keep the meeting upbeat and productive. If your attendees know that you’re not the type of project manager who lets his project meetings regularly run overtime, then they’ll be focused on the meeting topics and not what other tasks they should be performing instead. Start it on time, be productive, and then end it.
3. If they’re late, let them catch up.
If you are the type who likes to catch latecomers up as they arrive, then you’re feeding them and they will keep coming late. Avoid rehashing everything for the people who come or call in late – it’s their problem and they will have to worry about catching up on their own. And don’t be above reprimanding them if their missed participation was critical to the discussion that they’ve already missed. Don’t overdue it, but a little call out like that may ensure that it doesn’t happen next time.
4. Let them go.
When the meeting is over – make it be over. Close it out with a brief wrap up and let them know you’ll be sending out notes for key participants to confirm understanding and then end the meeting. Save the idle chatter for the desk or water cooler – you don’t want to be the guy with a reputation for wasting everyone’s time.
5. Hold it anyway.
If it looks like there’s really nothing new to be discussed during a regular weekly project meeting, hold it anyway…just keep it short. If you frequently cancel these meetings then your attendance and participation may dwindle. It’s easier to keep people engaged then to get them to re-engage. People sometimes say otherwise, but in general everyone likes organization and a schedule. Even if it’s a 5-minute meeting to ask if there are any key points that need discussed, hold it. You may keep something critical from falling through the cracks.
6. Publish brief meeting notes that emphasize action items.
Finally, always follow up with a status summary of what was discussed, decisions that were made, action items that were assigned, etc. I usually do this as revised notes on the actual status report that I sent out and used to drive the meeting. I send it out via email and ask participants to respond if anything appears to be inaccurate or if something critical was missed. The goal is to make sure everyone comes out of the meeting on the same page and these notes can help ensure that.
Meetings are often considered a ‘necessary evil.’ They have to happen, but many hate to attend them and participate in them. As long as your planned attendees know you have a reputation for managing your meetings well and that you expect everyone to be prepared and ready to participate, your meetings should end up being productive and well attended. And that’s all you can ask for.