Aligning Process, People, and Technology to Facilitate the Speed of Change
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January 01, 2006

Michael Spivey

As a member of a project team or manager of a Program or Project Management Office, have you ever wondered why some project meetings seem to be so unproductive? Have you ever been part of a conversation where you find yourself, or team members, asking why you are meeting twice a week when you could easily meet once a week and still achieve the same results?    If you find yourself asking these types of questions, stop and take a minute to review some key indicators that often prove you might have an issue that needs to be addressed before it gets out of control.

Evaluate Project Meetings Regularly

Key indicators that a problem might exist with your project meetings:

  • Consistent low attendance (despite sending meeting reminders)
  • Consistent lack of participation by key individuals
  • Participants consistently joining meetings late
  • Participants involved in multi-tasking which results in having to repeat comments or questions that ultimately prolongs the meeting and frustrates those that are actively engaged
  • Outputs inconsistent or not being used

Even though you might be experiencing one or more of these key indicators, often the standard answer to similar questions, like the ones outlined above, is that project meetings are established at the beginning of the project, and they must continue until the project is successfully implemented. It’s part of the process!

However, a basic, but often ignored responsibility of project managers and team members is to constantly evaluate the overall project process, and yes, that should include the evaluation of all project meetings and their relevance to the success of the project. As the manager of a PMO, you can easily incorporate a meeting evaluation process into the overall project lifecycle. For instance, at the end of each meeting, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was the original purpose of the meeting? Are the objectives still being met?
  • What was the original frequency and duration of the meeting? Every day? Twice a week? Once a week? Two hours? One hour?
  • Are other meetings taking place with similar objectives? Do those meetings have the same audience?
  • Are the correct participants included in the distribution list? Should names be added / deleted?
  • Are the meeting outputs of value? Are they being used by the intended audience?

If you can’t remember the original purpose of the meeting, then it is obvious the meeting should be cancelled. The cancellation of a meeting is by no means an indication that it was not useful at one time. As with any project, meeting objectives are constantly changing as you move through the project lifecycle. Don’t continue to meet just for the sake of meeting. The same holds true for outputs. If you are producing a time consuming output that is of no value to anyone, don’t continue to produce a deliverable just so that another item can be checked off your “to do” list.

If the objectives are still being met, then evaluate meeting frequency. Perhaps, you are meeting too often. If the bulk of the work has been completed, and the meeting has evolved from the need to get individual updates on a large number of tasks to providing a brief overview of the last remaining tasks, shorten the meeting occurrence and duration. For example, if you are spending two hours, two days a week to review detailed project tasks, and now there are only a few remaining tasks left, shorten the meeting to one day a week for an hour. You and your teammates will be able to apply the three hours you just gained back into your schedule towards an aspect of the project that needs more attention.

Also, don’t simply focus on the evaluation of individual meetings. Take the time, once a week, to review all project meetings. If there are meetings that appear to overlap in participants, objectives, and duration, ask if one or more of the meetings should be cancelled. If two meetings are scheduled for an hour once a week and have similar objectives, but both are lasting only 30 minutes, determine if you can combine them into a weekly one hour meeting. Ask if there is a topic or aspect of the project that has been overlooked, perhaps the purpose of the second meeting should shift to address something that has been overlooked or neglected (i.e., review of action items).

Confirm Your Analysis

Finally, as with most aspects of a project, it should be a collaborative process. Once you have completed evaluating the project meetings, seek out the opinion of the participants. Based upon their feedback determine what adjustments need to be made to individual meetings or to the overall meeting calendar. This does not need to be an elaborate, formal process, but rather, it can be a brief discussion at the end of one of the regularly scheduled meetings.

Make Changes Quickly 

Once changes to meeting objectives and times have been identified, act quickly! Communicate the changes to all participants as soon as possible. By acting quickly on feedback received, it will send a clear message that you value team member opinions as well as their time.   Following these steps will led to more productive meetings and more actively engaged participants.

Some common results of incorporating the meeting evaluation process into your overall PMO process:

ü   Fewer meetings

ü   Better attendance

ü   More productive / better structured meetings

ü   Better use of participant’s time

ü   Valuable meeting outputs