So let's consider and discuss my five components of planning and executing effective project meetings... be thinking about your own list and please comment at the end...
Pre-plan. It all starts with a plan. Every meeting needs to have a purpose. Maybe a decision needs to be made and you want to gather all key stakeholders together to brainstorm on the right decision. For regular meetings like weekly team meetings or weekly customer status meetings the goal is likely to go over current project status and get and give updates on key tasks, deliverables and issues. Planning still needs to happen. How long should the meeting be? Who should attend? What should the agenda look like? Plan well and the meeting will be easier to keep on topic and within a planned timeframe.
Put out an advance agenda. Put out a detailed meeting agenda in advance (a day, not one hour) for every meeting you call. Period. Make it four to six bullet points long – not twenty. If you’re smart, you’ll include the latest up-to-date status report along with it so everyone can review project status prior to the meeting. At least they won’t have the opportunity to say they didn’t have the information. By showing them what is being discussed and what should be accomplished, they will better understand how the meeting affects them and they will likely see why they should be in attendance.
Execute on time and on topic. Start on time, end on time, and – for regularly scheduled meetings – never cancel. Let's discuss each of these three concepts.
- Start on time. Always start your meeting on time. You'll gain the reputation as a prompt meeting facilitator and you will experience better attendance and more timely arrivals. Unless it's your CEO showing up late, never stop the meeting to bring late arrivals “up to speed.” It sends a message that your start time is optional and soon everyone will just show up when they can or want to because they know you'll recap everything for them. Don't do it.
- End on time. Likewise, always end as close to the planned end time as possible... and make that planned end time clear when you send the agenda and pre-meeting information out in advance. Ending on time will mean those who have a tight schedule that day will still attend knowing your aren't going to consume their work day by going 90 minutes longer than planned. Everyone has work to do. Stay on schedule and your attendance and participation will be high.
- Never cancel. Finally, never cancel. There can be good reasons for canceling, I realize this. But, especially for those regular weekly meetings, it's a very bad idea to get in the habit of canceling them when there isn't much to cover. During a lull in the project, if you start to cancel meetings – especially weekly customer meetings – not only will your meetings become optional in attendees minds, but you will also lose customer confidence because you aren't accessible to them. Even if all you do is spend 10 minutes going around the room for brief updates from all participants on what they are working on relating to the project that can be helpful. You never know when you'll capture that critical piece of information that otherwise may have fallen through the cracks.
Take great notes. As the project manager and meeting facilitator as well as the center of project communications, be sure to take detailed notes. I like to make notes right on the agenda or on the project status report – whatever is truly driving the meeting. Document all decisions made, assignments made, issues updated, tasks progress noted, and concerns that were discussed. Record as much detail as possible and as accurately as possible for the next step... the follow-up. Recapping at the end is great and should always happen. But not everyone hears everything the same. The key is to ensure that everyone is on the same page... always.
Always follow-up. Finally, always follow-up after the meeting with information from the meeting. Distribute your notes to everyone as quickly as possible and ask for their feedback or revisions by noon the next day. Revise anything from your notes that you need to and resend a final copy. Again, the goal is to always ensure that everyone is on the same page and this is the key final step to follow to help ensure that.
Summary / call for feedback
That's my five ingredients for planning and executing effective project meetings. To me, this is the recipe for the perfect meeting – at a high level of course because everything can be tailored to meet what the specific meeting is about. A project team meeting is not the same as a project customer review or a project kickoff meeting or a quarterly review or a planning meeting for user acceptance testing (UAT) or a completely unrelated meeting at the local union of welders.... you get the picture. But the planning, execution, structure, accountability, need for agenda and focus and timeliness, and followup will still be the same.
Readers – what are your thoughts? Do you agree with this list? What would you tweak or change or add to the list? Please share your thoughts and experiences.