Project Managers lead their teams toward project completion as aggressively as possible. As leaders, we do this most successfully with face-to-face conversations. It’s the most clear, effective, and direct way to convey information, and whether you realize it or not, every face-to-face interaction you have is a meeting. In fact, in my office, conversation is spelled m-e-e-t-i-n-g!
Meetings are crucial, because the whole purpose of a meeting is to move the ball down the field as a team. They are the stage where leadership occurs, and since every project is unique and complex, they require a ton of leadership. That means that Project Managers will have several meetings each day.
But having meetings for the sake of meetings won’t get the job done. There’s an art to good meetings, and it’s up to the Project Manager to make sure that every meeting is leading a project closer to completion. They are responsible for developing meeting agendas, scheduling, and chairing all the project-related meetings they attend, but they are equally responsible for making sure every meeting drives results. If you want to cultivate the art of leading successful meetings, read on to learn my tried-and-true methods.
Make Sure You’re Inviting the Right People
In the words of Cameron Herold, “Your meetings are costing you.” Every time you have a group of employees in a room, you are pooling their collective pay. When every minute is costly, it’s important to make sure that you have all the right people in the room. When inviting attendees to a meeting, identify the team members who have the expertise and authority to agree to next steps. Don’t invite anyone that is not critical to accomplishing your agenda items.
In a Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Know If There are Too Many People in Your Meeting,” the authors wrote: “How many people should you actually invite? There are no hard and fast rules, but in principle, a small meeting is best to actually decide or accomplish something; a medium-sized meeting is ideal for brainstorming; and for communicating and rallying, you can go large.”
It’s also important to note that it’s not necessary for the Project Manager to attend every project-related meeting, but it is necessary for the Project Manager to chair the meetings they attend. Sometimes Executive Stakeholders or project team members schedule meetings and invite the Project Manager. When this happens, the Project Manager should contact the individual who scheduled the meeting and determine what their role would be in the meeting, then decide whether their attendance is necessary. If the meeting doesn’t require a Project Manager, graciously decline, and let the team carry on without you.
Give Plenty of Lead Time
One of the biggest obstacles to moving a project toward completion as aggressively as possible is meeting lead times. In most Fortune 100 companies, people’s calendars fill up weeks in advance. It is not unusual for people to be double- or triple-book weeks in advance. When planning a meeting, finding a time slot when all the necessary attendees are free at the same time is very difficult and almost never happens the same week you send the meeting invite out. The time between sending the invite out and the first available time slot for all attendees is called “Meeting Lead Time.”
If after developing the agenda you find that your meeting duration is longer than is generally acceptable in the client environment, do not arbitrarily decrease your meeting duration. This will ensure you fail to complete each of your intended accomplishments, and you will have to schedule a follow-up meeting. Because of the meeting lead time, it could be weeks before that meeting can take place. Instead, split the agenda items into several meetings and schedule immediately. This will ensure you are able to facilitate the meetings necessary to move your project forward as soon as possible.
Proper agenda item duration planning will help you determine the duration needed for your meetings. This activity will help you avoid the pitfalls associated with meeting lead and help to ensure that you frequently accomplish what you intended in your meetings.
Prepare a Purpose-Oriented Agenda
Attempting to lead a meeting without an agenda is tantamount to winging it, and solid leadership requires preparation! Before every meeting, it’s important to clearly and concisely identify the meeting accomplishments that will move the project ahead. Think of the agenda items as future accomplishments or as outcomes. Good agenda items are clear, concise, and measurable.
Once you’ve identified the accomplishments necessary to move the project forward, assign each of these agenda items to a meeting participant and define a duration for each. Try to consider the individual politics at play and how these items will be explored. What’s the team member’s personality type? Are they a cowboy, refiner, engineer? Realistically, how long will this agenda item take? Your agenda items may require several meetings to accomplish, and you don’t want to find this out after waiting for and conducting your meeting.
Sequence your agenda items, and determine the required duration for the meeting. Then adjust the duration or schedule several meetings to accomplish the agenda. Then, and only then, should you send the invitation.
Be a Leader, Not a Note-Taker
When you conduct a meeting, it’s crucial to remember that your job is to be a leader, not a note-taker. Though a requirement of the job is that we take notes and publish minutes for each of our meetings, the notes should be a result of the Project Manager’s leadership in the meeting. The notes should reflect that the team successfully completed each of the accomplishments outlined in the agenda.
That said, do not hide behind a laptop. In a Harvard Business Review article titled “What You MissWhen You Take Notes on Your Laptop,” the author shares research that shows that people who take notes on a computer don’t absorb information as well as those using a pen and notepad. The author also makes the point that taking notes on a laptop gets in the way of developing a strong conceptual understanding of the meeting outcomes. This is especially important for a leader who relies on the knowledge of subject matter experts to drive decisions. If you struggle to grasp the concepts covered by your subject matter experts, you will struggle to lead them.
The Project Manager should track meeting activity at an appropriate level of detail, capturing only agreements, task assignments, and impediments.
Schedule Time to Prepare and Publish Meeting Notes
Meeting notes should be compiled and distributed within the thirty minutes following a meeting and no later than close of business the following day. Accordingly, when scheduling meetings, schedule time immediately after the meeting to prepare and publish the notes whenever possible. Not only will this ensure the chain of accountability is established as soon as possible, but it will give the Project Manager time to prepare for the next meeting.
Whether from a structured meeting or a hallway conversation, it is essential to capture the agreements, impediments, and/or task assignments that emerged during a meeting and then communicate that information to other Project Team Members. This isn’t about accountability; this is about utility. Our Project Team Members are running from meeting to meeting, making hundreds of decisions and commitments every day. Meeting notes serve to clarify, remind, and ensure that agreements, impediments, and tasks assignments make it into the project cadence. If the Project Manager doesn’t take time to compile this very focused information, it is usually forgotten. Once published, meeting notes establish the chain of accountability by reminding participants of their agreements, impediments, and task assignments. Remember, no one begins working on their assignments until notes are published.
Prepare to Lead or Expect to Fail
Meetings aren’t just about having bodies in a room. They are about effectively and efficiently driving progress. The key to a successful meeting, more than anything, is preparation. Leadership often happens behind the scenes, and if you want to conduct a good meeting, then you have to make the effort to prepare everything beforehand.
Attention to detail will ensure that a team has the information necessary to work as efficiently as possible and to deliver a high-quality result for the least amount of time and money. With plenty of lead time, the right attendees, a focused agenda, goal-oriented discussion, and solid meeting notes, your project will be much more likely to succeed.
For more advice on the art of meetings, you can find The Irreverent Guide to Project Management: An Agile Approach to Enterprise Project Management (Lioncrest Publishing) on Amazon.
Written by Jason Scott. Have you read?
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