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How to Have Successful Project Meetings
By Bruce McGraw

If you are a senior project manager, program manager or team lead, you may view meetings as a high-probability time waster. And, moving into the management of projects seems to have given you a whole new set of “go-to-meeting tickets”—many of which do not directly affect accomplishing your project objectives. As a project manager, you should be aware of the danger of becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution. So, is it possible to have successful project meetings?

Yes. (Thank heaven!)

It is actually not that hard. First, think about your real goals for project meetings:

  • Gather status information
  • Identify any problems that may impact the schedule or budget
  • Resolve conflicts and facilitate teamwork
  • Brainstorm or walk through problem-solution spaces (to create a common understanding and take advantage of the collective knowledge of your team)
  • Flow information to the teams, team members and project staff

Now, reflect on what you hated about some meetings you were required to attend. Try to be specific in your ruminations—don’t say “it wasted my time”—think seriously about what behaviors made the meeting seem useless or worse. If you hear yourself thinking:

  • “We sat around for 30 minutes waiting for people to get there”
  • “No one knew what the meeting was about”
  • “We spent an hour doing something that could have been accomplished in 10 minutes”
  • “We re-hashed the same old things”
  • “No one listened; they just wanted to hear themselves talk”

Well, your internal list should give you some pretty good ideas of what not to do or what to avoid. So, what are some positive ideas for making your project meetings successful? Try this list as a start.

10 Ways to Make Your Project Meetings Successful

  1. Have an agenda, share it before the meeting, and follow it. If an attendee is supposed to have data, answers, or provide input; let them know beforehand so they will be prepared. Also give others an opportunity to add items to the agenda that they feel need to be discussed by the team.
  2. Start on time and end on time—or even early (if all items have been addressed). Mornings often work better than afternoons and Tuesday is a good day.

  3. If you will be reviewing status and task prioritization at a project meeting, be sure that all critical participants are going to be there. This is especially important if the meeting will involve decisions affecting the project tasking for the upcoming week. If everyone hears the same message, the chance of conflicts later on will be minimized.

  4. Take notes on results that track to the agenda and capture all action items. Share this as an email within 24 hours. (Or utilize a good collaborative tool like SharePoint)

  5. Food or no food? Opinions are mixed on this, but I tend to come down on the side of not providing treats. It is just one more thing to do and folks can bring a snack or drink if they want it. Save the treats for celebrations or in recognition of extraordinary efforts or stresses.

  6. Dealing with conflict. Not all conflict is bad or unavoidable. Your job is to keep the talk relevant, not personal; focus on outcomes not playing the blame game. Remember, healthy tension is all right.

  7. Every meeting must have a leader. It does not always have to be you, but someone must be in charge and facilitate the meeting.

  8. Try to make sure that everyone who has something to say is given a chance to say it. You do not need to take turns, but be alert to body language and participation. If someone seems overly quiet, ask them a question. Remember that silence is not always golden—everyone likes to contribute.

  9. Decide beforehand if you will allow cell phones or texting during the meeting— I personally hate personal devices in a meeting and ask people to NOT use them. If the meeting is long, give a break for people to catch up with messages.

  10. Ideally your meeting should be no longer than two hours and shorter is better. Meetings that run on tend to dull the spirit and the mind. I prefer the 50 minute meeting – just short of an hour but long enough to get the job done!

Do you have any good tips for meetings? Write a comment and share!

Bruce A. McGraw is COO/EVP for Cognitive Technologies, a WBE/DBE consulting firm delivering project /program management, collaborative processes, and organizational effectiveness to commercial and government clients (www.cognitive-technologies.com). Bruce has been a program manager for over 25 years and has experience across multiple industries. His ability to craft pragmatic solutions to meet project goals, coupled with experience in all aspects of project management, enables him to meet customer expectations with on-time, within-budget deliveries. Bruce is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and is an active member of the Project Management Institute. Bruce authors a project management blog at Fear No Project and can be contacted at (512) 380-1204 or Bruce.McGraw@cogtechinc.com.

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