Let’s start with a question –
Which activity is the biggest productivity killer in a project?
Ill-conducted Project Meetings.
If you lost an hour doing some activity that wasn’t productive, well you lost 1 hour. What does a 20 member team meeting delayed by just 10 minutes cost? At least close to 3 and an half hours of lost productive time!
Meetings are necessary. There are all types of meetings – snap meeting, daily stand-up meeting, end-of-phase sprint review and retrospection meeting, weekly customer meeting, monthly all-hands meeting, regular meeting with Quality Assurance team, weekly status reporting meeting higher management, technical review meeting – a zillion special and general purpose meetings.
Meeting is part of communication management domain knowledge area of product manager. No wonder that project manager spends on an average 90% of time on communication related activities. If these meetings are not made effective, a project manager you will not have time to do rest of her work.
Well, you will not have control over some of the meetings as a participant, but the ones you hold within your team and with customers you can definitely make sure that they are done well. A well-conducted project team meeting can do wonders for team’s productivity and project success.
I will share few pointers that have worked for me, in a bit.
Benefits of productive project meetings
First let let us take a quick look at the benefits of a productive meeting. While there many, here are few important ones –
Effective idea/solution generation
When more brains think on a problem more ideas/solutions are produced. Each of these are analyzed by the group for pros and cons and well-rounded and actionable solutions evolve that have better chances of success. Many of PMBOK processes have meetings, or types of meetings (different names with slightly differing objectives – focus groups, brain storming sessions, nominal group technique, idea/mind mapping and so on).
Team buy-in on unpleasant but necessary decisions
It is general human tendency to reject change. Involving team in decision making not only makes for all-round decisions but you also get buy-ins and cooperation from team members when they know they are part of the decision. It’s ‘their’ decision. So you have easier time implementing it and can expect better results.
Higher work satisfaction due to a sense of contribution to decision-making
When people work willingly on tasks they themselves have set, there is better sense of satisfaction even when the work is complex, tough or stretches working hours.
With better focus on work (due to reasons given above), there is better output.
Better team engagement
A team that sticks through tough times does amazing work due to the synergy. A cohesive team has an unwritten ‘language of work’, and it gets a lot done with understanding, cooperation and help members extend to each other.
How to conduct productive meetings
We have seen few suggestions by Patrick Lencioni in Death By Meeting, here. Now that we have recapped the benefits of productive project meetings, let us see few points project manager can keep in mind to turn routine meetings into productive meetings –
1. Circulate agenda items a day ahead
This helps people put together their thoughts and come prepared with their viewpoints. Do not have a gazillion meeting items though, it is better to restrict the agenda items to single digit number, based on the complexity of topics and scheduled meeting time. It is also a good practice to send a quick reminder an hour before the meeting. You can schedule these mails and reduce your overhead.
Ask specifically for individual’s view points on the topics. Make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute, and few key or enthusiastic people do not influence others’ view points.
2. Get the right people into the meeting
If the topic doesn’t need entire team, don’t call for the entire team. If you think an external subject matter expert can help greatly try to use your networking skills to get that person in the list of meeting attendees. More or lesser than required number of people on the meeting will either dilute the meeting or leave you short of the outcome you were seeking from the meeting.
3. Make sure you have all the infrastructure beforehand
Choosing a meeting place that has no distraction is a must. How many times you have had difficulty connecting your laptop to projector and wasted precious minutes? Carry a good white-board marker with you, even if they are ‘expected’ to be available in meeting rooms.
4. Have a fixed meeting duration, start on time, end on time. No matter what.
Respect of people’s and your own time is essential. When the meeting starts on time, habitual latecomers will get the message that they need to be on time. When meetings are done on time, more members will be willing to attend.
If there are agenda items that need presence of only subset of meeting attendees, discuss the common points first and then let other people leave.
If by the end of meeting duration there are unfinished items, schedule next meeting time – unless all agree to stay for another 5 minutes and take care of these points.
5. Challenge people’s thoughts to increase meeting effectiveness
Request people to either switch off their phone or keep it on flight mode or silent mode.
You will get most out of a meeting when you make people think. Engage people early on while you have their attention. First 5-10 minutes of the meeting should challenge them mentally and get them to start thinking about solutions.
Throw a question and make them think. Run a small interesting quiz related to a problem you want to find solution to. As Patrick Lencioni suggests, provoke a (healthy and non-personal) conflict.
6. Infuse a bit of humor
Humor at work is very beneficial. But never at the expense of people. Humor is essential especially during meetings with serious topics such as performance appraisal policy discussions, cut in employee benefits, or company merger decisions.
Never let humor to undermine the importance of the topic though. Even a neutral humor (some funny incidence that happened with you) is good. If you can’t think of something one trick is to egg on the members known for their humor and let them lighten up the environment.
7. Moderate meeting pace and depth of discussion
Usually emotions get involved during a healthy debate. It is not uncommon for someone with lot of enthusiasm to highjack meeting topic and digress into something else that is not the focus (although it is a juicy topic). As a project manager you need to moderate and keep the focus on the agenda. Once a resolution for an agenda item is found, quickly move to the next topic on the agenda.
8. Write action items and assign specific members during meeting
This is paramount. While the decision about a problem is made, identify the right person to address the solution and assign them during the meeting. You could let people choose to nominate themselves or one person can be nominated as a group. Based on that person’s workload, you could assign a second person to assist/share the load.
9. Always end the meeting on a positive note
Keep the light items to discuss in the end. Even if you miss it due to time constraint, majority of important items would have been discussed. If all meeting items have been ‘heavy’, ‘rough’ or serious ones, then invent something to discuss in the end. Could be an idea for team outing, some bonus announced for common work related challenge, or even a plain joke that is embedded in your conversation as if in the passing. Make sure people walk out with a smile on their face.
10. Publish meeting minutes
This makes sure people are all on the same page with respect to decisions taken during the meeting. This helps people who missed the meeting for some reason. Also, post them on a project documentation area such as Wiki for future reference.
To wrap up, getting most out of meeting is project manager’s primary responsibility. It is a disservice to the organization and people if meetings are non-productive. What are some of the tips you have for effective and productive project meetings? Leave your comments below.
Images courtesy: Dilbert corporate comics