How To Complete an Amazing Project Meeting

I had to laugh at this one. I was meeting with a potential new client this morning and he talked about the concept of the “good meeting” on projects. You know the ones – everyone comes out of the meeting saying, “good meeting!” But when asked what was accomplished no one can really pinpoint anything of any significance.

The really sad thing is this – when that happens for a two hour project meeting with an attendee list of 6-8 individuals, you suddenly realize you just blew through somewhere between $500 and $2,000 of billable time. The PM now has that much less left of the project budget to work with and nothing was accomplished that couldn’t have been handled more successfully in a 5-minute email. Do that weekly over the course of a 6-month project and that amounts to anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 of worthless, unproductive charges against the crucial project budget for dead weight meetings. Ouch – that hurts.

How do we combat the “Good Meeting”? In my opinion, it is through the following six key activities:

  • Prepare in advance
  • Have a detailed agenda
  • Stick to the meeting timeframe
  • Stay on topic
  • Structure the meeting for maximum participation
  • Perform thorough follow-up

Let’s examine each in more detail.

Prepare in advance. Preparing in advance is just that – advanced planning ahead of the meeting. Don’t just throw together an agenda and send it out. Plan well, think about how you’re going to strategize and discuss and assign tasks to keep the meeting flowing, keep everyone awake, and allow for the best information dissemination possible. You certainly don’t have to go overboard in the meeting planning process – too much would be a waste of time and money – but a little planning can go a long way. You just don’t want to arrive, start leading the meeting, and have everyone feel like you threw it together at the last minute. You want the meeting to be productive.

Have a detailed agenda. Always have a well planned out agenda designed to keep the meeting and information flowing. The agenda is the catalyst to help ensure you have an efficient and productive meeting that will help key decisions happen, assignments get made, next steps get planned and issues get reviewed. This your chance – with all the right key players in the room – to give and get good information. Make the most of it.

A good agenda also helps the meeting stay on track. A meeting that stays on track is one that stays in alignment with the timeframe planned for the meeting, which leads us to the next concept…staying on schedule.

Stick to the schedule. The best way to always have the highest attendance possible, and to gain a reputation as a great meeting facilitator, is to stick to the meeting schedule and agenda you proposed in the advanced meeting communication. Start on time, finish on time, and don’t cancel. Start on time even if you have late arrivals, and finish on time by not allowing you or participants to stray off topic.

And if there isn’t much to cover and it’s your regular weekly meeting, don’t cancel. Better to have a short meeting where not much gets discussed if there isn’t much to discuss than to cancel an ongoing regularly scheduled meeting. If you start to cancel those regular meetings people will start to consider your meetings as “expendable” and “optional” and your attendance will dwindle. Trust me, it will happen. Plus, you never know when something may need to be said even when the project is currently in a lull. If you skip that meeting – even if it ends up only being a 10-minute meeting – a key piece of information that your tech lead has from the customer that you need to hear might otherwise fall through the cracks. And that may have been a critical piece to the project puzzle but it becomes a forgotten piece until it’s too late.

Stay on topic. I can’t stress this one enough. It’s nice that people get together and talk trash or talk about their weekends or work on other projects – but not during your meeting and not on your project time. Plus, they are thoroughly boring everyone else in the meeting who want to be productive and move on to the rest of their day. You don’t want YOUR meeting wasting their time. That’s a very bad reputation to have and a hard one to get rid of.

Structure it for attendee participation. Always structure your meeting – and the agenda leading into it – for maximum attendee participation. Not only will it keep everyone awake and alert, but you’ll accomplish a lot more than those meetings where the facilitator just drones on and on about whatever topic they are providing information on. If all you need to do is disseminate information, do that through emails – it’s faster and more efficient. One-way communication is great for email. But for those things on the project that need to be discussed and decisions made – use the meeting for those. You have everyone together in one room – all the key stakeholders – use that time to make progress on the items and issues that can’t just be handled through one-way communication.

Follow-up after the meeting. Always follow up with notes after the meeting. That way you can ensure everyone is on the same page and everyone has equal understanding of the information provided, the discussions that happened, the decisions made, and the assignments and expectations that were allocated. I like to update the latest status report – usually what I’m using to drive the project meeting and what the agenda originates from – with whatever information and decisions came out of the meeting. I send that out to everyone and give them 24 hours to get back to me with any changes or things they think I may have miscommunicated. Then, I resend the revised info out again to all attendees – and anyone who couldn’t make it – so as to ensure we are now once again on the same page.

SUMMARY

Meetings can be a big waste of time. Or they can be extremely productive. It’s generally up to you and how you plan for and organize your meetings. The better you plan, the more organized you are, the more you stick to your schedule, the better your meeting attendance and participation will be. With all that in place, you’ll be far more likely to have a truly good meeting…not one of those “good meetings” that everyone walks out of looking sleepy and shaking their heads.

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