“A waste of time and I hardly got what I needed,” sniffed the pissed off client. We were on the phone right after he finished a construction meeting with the General Contractor team on an Office Center project. “Your project meetings always run on time and seem to uncover the problems that people are hiding,” he added. “And we always are able to come up with the answer to fix it. How do you do it?”
After 25 years of running complex projects, I developed a steady pattern of how to run project meetings. I have a pattern for the daily meeting with the leaders on the floor. I have a pattern for the weekly meeting with the managers of the different trades on the project. And, I have a pattern for the weekly meeting where the client is in the room.
Three different patterns? No. Same pattern.
In my opinion, the secret sauce to a successful series of project meetings uses these six key activities:
Let’s examine each in more detail.
Always Prepare in Advance. Preparing in advance is just that – advanced planning ahead of the meeting. Don’t just throw together an agenda and send it out. Think about the structure of the agenda, plan well, think about how you’re going to strategize and discuss and assign tasks to keep the meeting flowing, keep everyone awake, and allow for the best information dissemination possible. Don’t go overboard with the planning process, a little planning can go a long way. For heaven’s sake, don’t just arrive and start leading the meeting; everyone’s going to feel like you threw it together at the last minute.
Always Have a Detailed Agenda. A well-planned agenda keeps the meeting and information flowing, assuring that you cover what is important and everyone can contribute. The agenda is the catalyst that ensures you have an efficient and productive meeting that makes key decisions happen, people are assigned work, planning of next steps and issues get reviewed. This is your chance – with all the right key players in the room – to give and get good information. Make the most of it.
A good agenda keeps the meeting on track. A meeting that stays on track is one that stays in alignment with the timeframe planned for the meeting, which leads us to the next concept…staying on schedule.
Stick to the Meeting Timeframe. The best way to have the highest attendance possible and gain a good reputation as a superior project manager is to stick to the meeting schedule and agenda you proposed. Start on time, finish on time, and don’t cancel. Start on time even if you have late arrivals, and finish on time by not allowing you or participants to stray off topic.
If there isn’t much to cover and it’s your regular weekly meeting, don’t cancel. Better to have a short meeting if there isn’t much to discuss than to cancel an ongoing regularly scheduled meeting. Start canceling those regular meetings people will start to consider your meetings as “expendable” and “optional” and they won’t show up. It will happen. Moreover, you never know when something may need to be said even when the project is currently in a lull. If you skip that meeting – even if it ends up only being a 10-minute meeting – a key piece of information that you need to hear might otherwise fall through the cracks. That may have been a critical piece to the project puzzle but it becomes a forgotten piece until it’s too late.
Stay on Topic and Take Notes This is an inviolate rule. Don’t let people get together and talk trash or talk about their weekends or work on other projects during your meeting and on your project time. You don’t want YOUR meeting wasting anybody’s time. That’s a very bad reputation to have and a hard one to get rid of. Take notes throughout the meeting. If the meeting is a large group, select someone to record meeting minutes. Still, as the leader, take your own notes in the meeting.
Structure the Meeting for Attendee Participation. Always structure your meeting – and the agenda leading into it – for maximum attendee participation. Not only will it keep everyone awake and alert, you’ll accomplish a lot more. Make sure that every person in the room has something on the agenda to cover. The meeting is for the things on the project that requires discussion and decisions made – use the meeting for those. You have everyone together in one room – all the key stakeholders – use that time to make progress on the items and issues that can’t just be handled through one-way communication. If all you need to do is disseminate information, do that through emails – it’s faster and more efficient. One-way communication is great for email.
Follow-up after the meeting. Always follow up with your notes after the meeting. Follow up to ensure everyone is on the same page and everyone has equal understanding of the information provided, the discussions that happened, the decisions made, and the assignments and expectations. I update the latest status report – usually what I’m using to drive the project meeting and what the agenda originates from – with whatever information and decisions came out of the meeting. I send updated meeting notes to everyone in the meeting and give them 24 hours to get back to me with any changes or things they think I may have miscommunicated. Then, I resend the revised info out again to all attendees – and anyone who didn’t make it – so as to ensure we are now once again on the same page.
Meetings that are a big waste of time are time crimes. Extremely productive meetings are fast, concise, accomplish things and create action after the meeting. It’s up to you and how you plan for and organize your meetings. The better you plan, the more organized you are, the more you stick to your schedule, the better your meeting attendance and participation will be. With all that in place, you’ll be far more likely to have a truly good meeting…not one of those “good meetings” that everyone walks out of looking sleepy and shaking their heads.
We think the best lessons come from experience. You can take what you know and apply it to the problem to see if your solution works. Your solution may work or it may not work. If it works the first time you really don't have a chance to learn anything because you don't know what was critical to the success. But if the solution fails you have something to work with, something that gives you a clue what needs improvement.
You can gain knowledge on your own making mistakes. You can learn for observing others as they make mistakes. You can learn from the stories that other tell about their successes and failures. Building knowledge requires all three. So we present Both Lessons and Stories.
The lessons let you gather information about the subject, lessons that you can put to use and see how they work in your environment, to fail and learn with.
The stories build in the mistakes and discoveries of other practitioners. The stories, telling memorable tails, allow you to better understand the thinking process of the story teller, the fears, concerns, joys they encountered in their work.
“Our house is on fire. You guys are the fires department. I don’t care house you put the fire out, just that you get it out and we can recover.”
Steve and I were walking through the floor operations of his new distribution center, about 30 minutes after I first arrived in the facility. I could hear the tension in his voice as we spoke about how the start-up of operations was failing. As General Manager of the new DC, Steve’s career was in jeopardy.
There is only one true constraint in any system. You can do three things to it: break it, exploit it, and subordinate everything else in the system to it. As soon as you discover a way to break the bottleneck, the issues shifts to yet another bottleneck, which becomes the new true constraint.
My first encounter with a WMS was long before I got interested in logistics and transportation. My first encounter was as a 12 year boy. I took a slip of paper to a burley old man in the will-call window at the JC Penney DC in Lenexa, KS. After taking the skip and reading it, he walked up to a screen and typed a few numbers into a keyboard. The screen changed and he walked back into the storage area. After about 5 minutes he came out with the motor my dad needed to fix the dryer.
In this topic we examine what happens to the receiving process of a retail hardware and building materials distribution operation. The system in the chart above may look simple, but it isn't. There are four functions, each with internal and external influences. The following story illustrates the hidden complexity behind this simple system, and how Systems Thinking helps optimize and improve warehouse operations.