Meetings – Justify your existence

Most project meetings don’t need to happen, and those that do need to be controlled. But that is only part of the story.

By now everyone has pretty much got the message that the key to a successful meeting is to ensure that the meeting goals, agenda, preparation, documents & presentations are set up front, and each meeting should have minutes, action items, and listed follow-up. We’ve heard this ad nauseam. At the risk of inducing yet more nausea I’m going to focus on 3 points over 3 posts:

  • What most of your meetings are made up of is irrelevant, so ditch the chaff. This is the subject of this post.
  • Think about how many people’s time you’re going to waste and minimize the attendees and the agenda upfront – along with everything else
  • Keep a track of who said what. Or else…

As part of the initial planning, the project manager or team will agree with the stakeholders what meetings should take place, their frequency, attendees and so on. However, one key question should be “Why?” Why do we need this meeting? What purpose does it serve? Can it’s purpose be completed without wasting the collective time of a group of people?

We’re so ingrained that we need to have this meeting and that committee that we often forget to ask whether they are necessary and relevant. If the project is part of a larger Organizational program or portfolio then the Company Project Management Office (PMO) may have a standard list with example templates, so the risk is that even less thought is given to whether they make sense

Most of your meeting is irrelevant – fix it!

Most meetings risk descending into glorified ‘cover your ass’ sessions that cover ground that really could be better addressed before anyone comes through the door or dials in. All very useful for catching up, political posturing, appearing to be involved, and most importantly getting free coffee and cookies (if provided, and has anyone else noticed the strong positive correlation between the quality of coffee and cookies and the seniority of the chair.)

A post by Fred Kofman recently showed that by focusing all meetings on the simple premise that meetings are only needed to make decisions and to commit teams or organizations to those decisions, we can cut a lot of noise out the meetings. For one of Kofman’s clients this reduced meetings by 90%.

The only goal for a meeting is “to decide and commit.” No other objective is worth meeting for.

No meetings to “discuss.”
No meetings to “update.”
No meetings to “review.”
No meetings to “inform.”
No meetings to “report.”
No meetings to “present.”
No meetings to “check.”
No meetings to “dialogue.”
No meetings to “evaluate.”
No meetings to “connect.”
No meetings to “think.”
No meetings to “consider.”
No meetings to “educate.”
No meetings to anything but “decide and commit.”

Cut your meeting time by 90%

Let’s be clear; this doesn’t cut your preparation by 90%. All the slides, reports, charts, traffic-lights, etc. that you normally populate a meeting with need to be prepared well in advance (see the next section on the Agenda) but the sole aim is that by the meeting all attendees have a) read and digested the notes, and b) are informed enough to make decisions.

Neither does it negate discussions or networking – it’s just that this should be a separate exercise and not part of the meeting.

There are so many ways that the status of a project can be shared – from emails to shared spreadsheets to SharePoint dashboards to big visible charts pinned to a board that the meeting is possibly one of the least efficient ways of radiating information there is. The only thing that can’t be done simply without direct interaction is to collaboratively assess the impact of a strategic changes/decisions and to agree on what the next steps are – that is, to decide and commit. Leave everything else outside the meeting.

So, assuming your meeting needs to go ahead, and you can get all the relevant information out, the next step is to work out who needs to be there and then capture what is committed to – which I’ll cover in the next posts.

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3 Responses to Meetings – Justify your existence

  1. Mr Potarto says:

    How do you have a discussion without having a meeting?

    • The idea is that the waffle should be minimized as much as practical. A lot of project meetings tend to be used to give updates which can be easily done far more effectively by reporting ahead of time in a format everyone is familiar, so using the meeting to do this is just plain inefficient.Ideally the meeting should just focus on decisions and the discussions should be focused on. There are some exceptions, like the daily meeting in Scrum, but that uses other methods to reduce the waffle.

  2. Pingback: Meetings – The who and what | An Accidental Project Manager

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