February 25, 2013
By Dewey Chiesl, MS, PMP
In a recent New York Times article, Carson Tate says that time is a commodity and meeting time should generate a return on investment. He asks, “Have you started holding meetings in the office restroom?” The article continues to say that, “…a senior leader’s days in large organization were filled with back-to-back meetings and conference calls. Because her direct reports were unlikely to find her at her desk, they started following her into the restroom, file folders in hand, to get answers… Tate wonders how often we set real expectations for meetings to produce real returns to create a new corporate culture, with fewer, shorter, more focused meetings. (Business Section, Sunday New York Times, 2/17/13)
This article was timely since I manage multiple IT projects for a Fortune 1000 company with national plants and international development partners. Projects range from six to eighteen months with 35 – 150 team members. I still must monitor and control my projects but use fewer, shorter, more focused meetings. Here’s how.
After the initial project startup phase and for the vast major majority of project status meetings, I use a conference call bridge to host virtual project meetings instead of face-to-face meetings. I host most of these virtual meeting calls from my desk, but in a pinch, I can use my mobile from my car or where ever is convenient. The same applies for the callers. Traditional, face-to-face meetings waste time and money for these type of project meetings. Few team member have the time to get to/from a conference room and are willing to give up the convenience of being able to multi-task from their desk.
Old fashioned, face-to-face meetings are essential for certain types of meetings: a project kickoff, war-room, ad-hoc whiteboard sessions or anytime a heart-to-heart meeting is needed. During project startup face-face meetings, are better to know each team member These meetings are purposely unstructured and used to share backgrounds, understand strengths and weaknesses, and build support for the project.
Once a project is underway, I switch over to virtual meetings. Desktop sharing tools such as Webex can be useful, but are not necessary. Desktop sharing tools can also slow the meeting and limit participants’ accessibility.
Status Meeting Format
- Greet each caller by name. Record names in meeting notes. After a majority has joined, announce each caller’s name.
- For each open issue on the list, get status update from the issue holder. Record synopsis of their resolution plan and ETA. Verbally summarize to the group. Record in your meeting notes. Update entry in issue log.
- Attempt to close open issues or determine when it will be closed.
- Stay on schedule and follow agenda. Limit any drill-down discussions to two minutes.
- At end of call, ask each person for new issues, comments or questions. Record in meeting notes and issue log as appropriate.
- Enumerate daily status items, issues
- Review overall project status, focus, priorities
- Close the call.
- Keep groups small and meeting times short.
- Send all documents two hours before the meeting including project tracking document or issue log. Start of the day is better.
- Follow the agenda. Insure meeting follows well established and previously agreed format and agenda.
- Decisions made in the meeting are binding and must be documented.
- Review big picture, project schedule, stoplight status and critical tasks.
- Limit attendees to seven for recurring status meetings. It’s difficult to gauge responses and control interactions in a larger group.
- Set the expectation that callers will join promptly and discussions will be limited to two minutes otherwise take the discussion offline. Identify and/or delegate someone who will schedule and drive resolution.
- Recognize each person who joins. No one joins without being announced and recognized.
- Keep meeting length appropriate to type of meeting. Daily status meetings are short, 15-20 minutes. Reviews, plans 60 minutes. No meeting exceeds 90 minutes.
- Meeting notes are published via email and/or shared project portal within 30 minutes after the meeting’s end. Attached are revised tracking document(s).
- Critical tasks are summarized at end.
- Use a hands-free headset.
- Expect callers to mute if not talking.
- One person talks at a time.
- Ask a caller promptly if they’re on mute if their response is delayed more than a second or two.
- Immediately restate or summarize critical or complicated points.
- Expect callers to multi-task but not to point of distraction. Worse case, ask them to turn-off their monitor.
- Periodically calling on people by name limits their multi-tasking.
- Take meeting notes fast. Don’t slow the meeting with note taking or by updating tracking documents. You can edit and otherwise beautify after the call.
- If a drill-down discussion is for one person or for your clarification alone, move on, and ask your questions offline
- Ask questions to specific person, else expect “crickets” (dead silence) for your answer.
- Head off heated discussions and/or take them offline.
- Expect everyone to contribute. Un-invite callers who do not regularly contribute.
- Avoid Monday morning and Friday afternoon recurring meetings.
Virtual project status meetings are essential to monitor and control a project. They save time and money and synch project team members more efficiently and effectively than old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings.
Efficient and Effective Project Meetings:
- Are faster, shorter, simple and focused
- Use well-understood agenda/format
- Access and maintain a tracking document
- Include seven or less attendees
I’ve worked as an IT program/project manager for over 25 years. I began as a programmer/analyst and continued to become a database designer and project lead and project manager. I’ve managed a 60 consultants in an IT consulting firm and taught project management classes. I have a BS in Mathematics and an MS in Computer Science. I have a PMI PMP. I enjoy building and motivating project teams to solve a particular problem or objective.