Written by Brad Egeland
Meetings are a way of life in project management. Weekly project team meetings, daily stand-ups on agile projects, weekly customer status calls and meetings, quarterly reviews on large government programs and projects and kickoff meetings on just about every project I've ever led or been involved with. How meetings are conducted can either make your job as a project manager easier or harder... sticking to some good meeting management techniques is always going to be your best plan for success.
From my experience, there are five things to consider when preparing for just about any meeting needed for your project. As I present these, please consider your own meeting prep processes and comment with any additional tips you might have...
Plan well. The initial key to great meetings is up front planning. Never just call a meeting based on a need or want or decision. Always do at least some up-front planning no matter how small the issue may be. You never want to be labeled as that meeting facilitator who just "wings it." You'll find out rather quickly that people don't want to give up valuable work time to attend one of your meetings that doesn't have a well-defined purpose or goal.
If it's a meeting to gather information providers together for a critical decision that needs to be made on a project, then make sure you document well what information you are seeking, what decision needs to be made, and what the next steps will be. If it's a regular project meeting, make sure you have a detailed agenda that includes current project status and what's happening next as well as any other agreed upon regular information. Usually a project status report is a good piece of input for this process. In other words - no matter what the meeting purpose is, have materials for the potential and planned attendees that will help you get the most relevant information out of them during the meeting session.
Send out information in advance. Always send information - including a detailed agenda - out to your planned meeting participants in advance. Twenty-four hours in advance is a good rule of thumb if that's possible. The more time you give attendees, the more likely they can come prepared to participate and provide you with the information you need. The goal is to get this done in one session - those who always need multiple meetings to accomplish one thing are quickly labeled disorganized time wasters and their meeting attendance will dwindle.
Adhere to a plan and timeframe. Stick to the planned timeframe for the meeting. Start on time and finish on time. Your stakeholders' and various attendees' time is valuable and your ongoing meeting attendance and participation will be high if you have a reputation as the facilitator who gets going and runs efficient and effective meetings. Don't be the one who stops the meeting to bring the late comers up to speed (unless it's your CEO and even then...) because that will frustrate those who do show up on time ready to participate. Better to teach the 10% late comers that it's not tolerated rather than to accommodate them and frustrate the other 90% who always show up on time. And end on time... these individuals have work to do and if they know you always run long, they'll be doing their other work on their laptops while your meeting is going on. You don't want that - in fact you may want to ban laptops during your meetings. I do that if it's a critical meeting and I need 110% of their attention. If laptops are present, I guarantee that you don't have all of their attention.
One more thing... never cancel your regularly scheduled meetings. Even if a project seems to be coasting between phases for a couple of weeks and nothing is really happening, continue to conduct weekly meetings. Even if you all you do is spend 10 minutes going around the room or phones to all the attendees for a quick update or status of what they are working on or any questions they may have - it will still be helpful and it will keep them coming. You never know when a key piece of information is going to come up during a call or meeting like this that would otherwise fall through the cracks. If you start to cancel meetings, it will only make it more difficult to get them back in those seats when the project starts up full force again. Plus, the goal is for everyone to stay on the same page at all times and these quick meetings will only serve to help ensure it stays that way.
Document well. Make sure you take good notes on all of the information provided and for any decisions and task assignments being made. You'll need this for yourself, the project schedule updates, the status reporting and for the next step as you'll see shortly. Communication is Job One for the project manager and information gathering and dissemination is part of that. What you understand from a meeting like this may not be the same as what everyone else - or at least some percentage of the attendees - understood, so take good notes for you and for everyone.
Follow-up afterwards. Following every project meeting, be prepared to send out notes from the session. Again, the key is to keep everyone on the same page at all times during the project engagement. When you send out notes from the meeting to all attendees and key stakeholders request that they send back any feedback, questions or alternate understandings of what was discussed and decided upon during the session. Not everyone catches everything or hears things the same. You don't want to wait a week or two to find out that an attendee missed an assignment that you gave them... a critical project deadline may be missed as a result. Ask for responses by noon the next day, revise your notes if needed, and resend the meeting information out to everyone one more time.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is always to keep everyone moving forward on the project, get decisions made, get information from key participants and keep everyone on the same page. The project manager who can do that through effective and efficient meeting leadership will win more projects than they lose... and that's always good.
Readers - what are your thoughts? What do you do to ensure your project meetings are as effective as possible? Do you agree with this list? What would you add or change?
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.