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Project Practitioners > Meetings and Process - How Much Is Enough?

Meetings and Process - How Much Is Enough?

By Brian Irwin

Over the past several months, I must admit that I've not been my usual self.  In the interest of being liked, I put aside some assertiveness and have bowed before the whims of others.  I've been working with a company recently where the culture welcomes meetings in all shapes, forms, and sizes.  Meetings are very commonplace.  I suspect you may be thinking that I work at your company.

As project managers, we are often tasked with leading and implementing projects that will usher in change.  We must be able to stand up and support positive change.  I have never been an individual that will shy away from asserting my propensity for doing what makes sense and doing away with what does not make sense.  One thing that I've learned over the years is to endlessly question.  Questioning is the basis of innovation and breakthrough thinking.  Asking why is a very powerful platform.

So, that brings me to my first question, "how many meetings are too many?"  As is the case with most things in life the answer is:  it depends.  However, there are several certainties.  One of these certainties is that meetings should have a purpose.  When you are trying to decide whether to hold a meeting or not hold one, ask yourself what the purpose is.  My history tells me that convening in a room with several individuals is not necessarily the best way to address every purpose.  Ask whether you would be better served by placing a phone call or paying a visit to address the purpose.  Too often, meetings are held that do not seem to have any purpose whatsoever except to pull everyone into a room in the "name" of collaboration.  What typically ensues is lack of understanding, misdirection, and no sense of closure.  Would you lead a project that had no stated purpose, goal, or objective?  OK, maybe that was not a fair question.  We have probably all led a project like that at some point in our professional career as a project manager.

Another certainty is that a meeting should have an agenda.  If you find yourself struggling to put together an agenda - DON'T hold the meeting.  It may indicate that you do not have anything to communicate or that you do not need any information at that time and you're simply going through the motions of having the meeting because it's recurring and "you've always held the meeting."  To counter Nike, Just DON'T do it!

When you decide that a meeting is warranted, a simple checklist to use for planning the meeting is as follows:

  1. State the objective of the meeting.  When the objective is met end the meeting.
  2. Assemble an agenda.  Make sure everyone knows what to expect when they get to the meeting.  If you get invites from others for meetings, don't attend if there's no agenda or if the topic does not involve you.
  3. Invite ONLY those necessary to achieve the stated objective.  Individuals that need to be informed of the outcome of the meeting do not need to be in the meeting.  A simple follow-up explaining the outcome will suffice.  Too many cooks can spoil the soup, and too many attendees can obfuscate and derail the agenda.
  4. Have someone else record minutes.  Perhaps I'm just a little bit "slower" but I find it incredibly distracting and difficult to attempt to scribe notes, record action items, and still be in the conversation.

Let's now press onward to process.  When you plan a project are you employing the appropriate amount of process?  The appropriate amount of process required will vary from project to project.  If you're a PMP, remember that the PMBOK is just a framework for project management.  Depending on your project it may not be necessary to employ all processes in each process group.

Finally, the advice I've found most helpful when referring to process is that the process should work for you, not the other way around.  If you find your project floundering because you're spending too much time serving the process you should evaluate and scrutinize the processes you've chosen to employ on your project.  You should not be a slave to the processes.



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