PM-Foundations – Planning & Conducting Effective Project Meetings

Project meetings can easily become the nemesis of your project success. Some of the things that I overhear when team members talk about project meetings:

“My day is fully consumed by meetings. I have no time to do my real work.”

“That meeting was a waste of time. Not sure what we were trying to accomplish.”

“We talk about the same things in every meeting.”

“The only decision we made today was that we need another meeting.”

Do your project meetings have a regular cadence (timing, content, and attendance)? Do the project meetings have an established purpose and objectives? Do the meetings drive positive project outcomes in terms of information sharing, problem resolution, and tracking and planning of work? Are action items regularly captured, and follow-up actions proactively initiated and tracked? If the answer is “no” to several of these questions, your project meetings may be a source of project churn. Project meetings that create churn ramble on, and provide limited benefit to the project team. In many cases, ineffective project meetings will actually be the source of confusion and misunderstandings on the team. It is a strong indication that your project meetings might be creating churn if you discuss the same issues/problems meeting after meeting, and team members become disengaged in the conversations — or do not show up at all. Communications within the project team, the ability to remove roadblocks, and the tracking and prioritization of project work are all negatively impacted by meeting related project churn.

Comments from my blog on Project Churn: In the workplace, churn represents the counterproductive discussions, emails, and actions that create a “drag” on generating positive business results. In the context of project delivery, churn represents the “negative energy” within the team and the overall project environment that prevents your project from progressing at the planned rate, or successfully completing project milestones. Churn is manifested in a stakeholder’s negative communication, a team member’s non-productive actions, or project delivery processes that are slow or ineffective. At its worst, project churn can paralyze a project team, and overwhelm a project. You will find project churn at the heart of many challenged or failed projects.

How Meetings Impact Your Project

On the surface, project meetings seem pretty harmless. How can getting people together to discuss topics and collaborate have a negative impact on my project? Below are several tangible ways that ineffective project meetings can have a negative impact on project outcomes:

  • Consume Time – Project meetings represent an investment in people’s time. If team members were not attending project meetings, they could be completing project work assigned to them. If project meetings do not contribute positively to project outcomes (e.g., sharing of information, making decisions, resolving issues), then they represent non-productive project overhead. Churn.
  • Do Not Result in Action – Project meetings without a defined purpose and agenda do not drive decisions and actions required to achieve project milestones. In many cases, action items are identified or decisions are made in meetings, however there is no follow-through or accountability established to ensure that the actions are completed or decisions are implemented (and the desired results achieved). Churn.
  • Create Confusion – Ineffective project meetings often generate confusion or misunderstandings within the team. When a project meeting is not facilitated and summarized in an organized manner, team members tend to take away very different perspectives from the meeting. The confusion resulting from the meeting can cause team members to communicate inappropriately, and/or work ineffectively. Churn.

In other words, meetings can consume a significant amount of your team’s time, do not drive productive decisions and/or actions, and in many cases are the source of confusion and chaos on the team.

Start With Why You Have Team Meetings

In my experience, the place to start when creating a foundation for effective project meetings is establishing an understanding of why you need meetings on your team. If the meetings do not contribute to one or more of the reasons for having a meeting, they should be transformed or eliminated. Below are the reasons I generally utilize when establishing project meetings:

  • Project Status Updates – Meetings represent an effective means to establish a common understanding amongst the team of where the project is at, and where the focus of the team needs to be. This includes knowing where the team is against plans, and what corrective actions must be taken to get the team back on track. It also includes establishing or clarifying where dependencies exist within the team, and how these dependencies impact achieving upcoming milestones.
  • Forum for Making Decisions – Decisions are required throughout the project life cycle to keep projects moving in the right direction and at the planned pace. In many situations, the decision requires collaboration of key stakeholders, and either a regularly scheduled meeting or an impromptu meeting is utilized to drive the decision.
  • Review Project Content – As milestones are achieved, it is important to ensure that the product(s) delivered meet the expectations of key stakeholders. Meetings are utilized to review project deliverables, resolve issues associated with deliverables, and gain consensus on the approval of a deliverable.

5 Ways to Improve Your Project Meetings

1. Create a Regular Cadence – It is important to establish a well-defined meeting schedule throughout the project life cycle. The meeting schedule includes core team meetings, steering committee meetings, and deliverable/milestone reviews. The meeting schedule establishes both expectations and constraints in terms of team member involvement and investment in team meetings (including both frequency and length of meetings).

2. Target the Audience – Team member involvement in meetings should be established during the definition of team roles and responsibilities. Identifying the target audiences for scheduled meetings includes forming the core team and steering committee, as well as defining stakeholders involved in reviewing and approving deliverables and/or milestones.

3. Establish the Appropriate Approach & Content – The team should decide on the appropriate approach for conducting each type of project meeting, as well as the scope of the content to be covered in the meeting. Does the meeting represent a facilitated discussion, or a sharing of specific information? Do materials need to be prepared or reviewed in advance of the meeting? Most regularly scheduled project meetings have a “standing” agenda that is tailored for each meeting occurrence based upon the current phase/status of the project.

4. Proactively Manage Meeting Follow-up – The wrap-up of each meeting should include a summary of key decisions and actions. These decisions and actions must be documented (as efficiently as possible), and reviewed in a systematics manner (to ensure that they are completed/implemented). I will generally start each regular team meeting with a review of key actions and decisions from previous meetings.

5. Keep Track of your Meetings – Tracking of project meetings helps teams ensure that they are getting the appropriate payback on the investment. For each type of project meeting, I will track the following information:

  • Attendance (including total hours and cost)
  • Decisions made and actions resolved (including deliverables reviewed/approved)
  • Value derived from the meeting (primarily based upon periodic input from meeting participants)

 

Your comments on this blog are appreciated. What experiences have you had with project meetings? How have you improved the effectiveness of your project meetings?

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Using SharePoint to Manage Project Meetings

In one of my previous blogs I talk about establishing rhythm on your project. Rhythm is a best practice area that ensures your team works together in a consistent, cohesive, and collaborative manner throughout the project life cycle. Rhythm involves three important elements of effective project execution:

 

  • Teamwork – People on the project are working together to accomplish a common goal.
  • Cadence – Work is getting done on-time, and in the sequence that it should.
  • Communication – People are informed and engaged at the right time about relevant topics.

Why is project rhythm so important?

The project team works more efficiently and effectively with a common understanding of the goals and the plan to “get there”.

  • Team members are more likely to be well-informed, and actively participate in decision making when strong communication and collaboration processes and tools are established.
  • Team dynamics & satisfaction are improved on a team that understands what progress looks like.
  • Bottom line: Good project rhythm improves project delivery outcomes.

SharePoint provides many features to help enhance the team’s rhythm. One of the most valuable of these features involves management of key team meeting. Efficient and effective meetings improve the interaction amongst team members, and confirm that the appropriate follow-through is executed after the meeting. The use of the Meeting Workspace within your project site helps make certain that the right people show up and are prepared to actively engage in key discussion topics.

The Meeting Workspace is a site template pre-configured to manage key elements of your team meetings:

  • Meeting Objectives
  • Attendees
  • Agenda
  • Pre-read materials
  • Minutes
  • Action items

The Meeting Workspace provides a self-contained and easy to access location for team members to better prepare for team discussions, and continue to collaborate on relevant topics after the meeting. I continue the description of the use of the Meeting Workspace to improve project rhythm context of two types meetings — recurring team meetings (e.g., core team and steering committee meetings) and one-time events (e.g., deliverable and milestone reviews).

Recurring Project Meetings

The project manager is responsible for ensuring that both the core team and steering committee are fully engaged throughout the project life cycle. The Meeting Workspace represents an excellent tool to help engage these teams in important project related discussions. The Meeting Workspace makes sure team members are better prepared for the meeting:

  • Objectives of the meeting are well understood
  • Meeting attendance is up-to-date
  • The agenda is published in advance of the meeting
  • Status of follow-up actions from previous meetings is maintained on an on-going basis
  • Pre-read materials for the meeting are available on the Meeting Workspace site (or links are provided to other locations on the project site)

In addition, the Meeting Workspace is used to continue collaboration on follow-up actions after the meeting:

  • Minutes are published that summarize key discussion topics, and more importantly decisions made during the meeting. How many times have you left a meeting wondering what was really accomplished or decided? Use of the Meeting Workspace to reenforce good meeting related processes helps upgrade the efficiency and effectiveness of your team meetings.
  • Action items are maintained in a list, including person responsible, target date, and current status of the action item. Collaboration continues on this list until actions are closed.

Below is an example of the Meeting Workspace for a Steering Committee.

Milestone / Review Meetings

The Meeting Workspace is also a very effective tool to manage significant team events, such as milestone or deliverable review sessions. These type of sessions are very important to the success of the project, because they are utilized to obtain feedback from key stakeholders and make strategic decisions about the both the project and the product. In addition, these meetings are generally expensive to conduct due to the length of the session and the number of people involved. The Meeting Workspace helps ensure that these sessions are as efficient and effective as possible:

  • Stakeholders understand the objectives of the session
  • An agenda is established that outlines what will be reviewed / discussed, and who is facilitating each discussion topic
  • Documents to be reviewed are available within the Meeting Workspace (or links to other locations on the project site are provided)
  • Decisions made about the milestone or deliverable are recorded
  • Follow-up tasks to complete the review, or make a final decision, are captured and continued to be updated until all open tasks are closed and the review is considered complete.

Below is an example of a Meeting Workspace for a milestone review session.

Integration with Outlook

One of the questions I frequently get asked when talking about using the Meeting Workspace to improve project delivery is, “Isn’t there additional effort to keep the information on the Meeting Workspace in sync with calendars in Outlook?” The answer to this question is that there is excellent integration between Outlook and SharePoint for scheduling the meetings, and managing attendees. Therefore there is no additional effort required to keep your Meeting Workspace and Outlook calendars up to date. When setting up a new meeting on your Outlook calendar, you can link an existing Meeting Workspace or create a new Meeting Workspace using the Meeting Workspace icon (see the icon circled in the screenshot below).

The link to the Meeting Workspace is saved in the body of the meeting notice in Outlook (see below). This makes it easy for team members to access the pre-read materials and other information about the meeting right from their Outlook calendar.

5 Benefits of Using SharePoint to Manage Team Meetings

  1. Establishes structure & organization – We know the right things to do for effective meeting management (agenda, minutes, action items), but we do not always do them consistently. Using the Meeting Workspace to manage meetings helps re-enforce team meeting related best practices and establishes good structure and organization for your team meetings.
  2. Easy access to pre-read materials – From the Meeting Workspace, team members can easily find the information and materials required to prepare for the meeting. These materials can be maintained in a document library on the Meeting Workspace, or provided as a link in the Meeting Workspace.
  3. Integration with Outlook – Using the Meeting Workspace icon when setting up a meeting in Outlook, you can link to an existing Meeting Workspace, or create a new Meeting Workspace within your project site. The link to the Meeting Workspace is maintained within your Outlook meeting notice to provide easy access to additional information about the meeting.
  4. Documents do not get lost in Project Artifacts – Meeting minutes and other key meeting artifacts are maintained in a self-contained document library tied to other information about the meeting (agenda, action items, attendees). These documents often get lost when they are maintained in the project deliverable library.
  5. Collaboration after the meeting – The use of the Meeting Workspace encourages on-going collaboration around key discussion topics, after the meeting is conducted. This collaboration ensures that all team members understand the decisions that have been made, and proactively perform the follow-up actions that were assigned.