The Art of Successful Weekly Project Meetings
“A waste of time and I hardly got what I needed,” sniffed the pissed off client. He had just finished a construction meeting with the General Contractor team on an Office Center project, and he decided to give me a call. “Your project meetings always run on time and seem to uncover the problems that people are hiding,” he began. “And we always are able to come up with the answers to fix them. How do you do it?”
After 25 years of running complex projects, I developed a reliable pattern for 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 is always to follow these six key steps:
- Prepare in advance
- Create a detailed Agenda
- Stick to the meeting timeframe
- Stay on topic and take notes
- Structure the meeting for maximum participation
- Perform thorough follow-up with your notes, and review in the next meeting.
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 and plan well. Think about how you’re going to strategize, discuss and assign tasks to keep the meeting flowing, to keep everyone awake, and to allow for the best information dissemination possible. Don’t go overboard with the planning process, however; a little planning can go a long way. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t just arrive and start leading the meeting; it will feel like you threw it together at the last minute.
Always Create 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 yourself 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, and 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 Maximum 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 issues on the project that require discussion and decisions – 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. Email is great for one-way communication.
Follow Up After the Meeting. Always send a follow-up message to all who attended the meeting. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and 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 used to drive the meeting and what the agenda originated from – with whatever information and decisions came out of the meeting. I also send updated meeting notes to everyone who attended and give them 24 hours to get back to me with any changes or possible miscommunications. Then, I revise and send the revised info to all attendees – and anyone who didn’t make it – to ensure we are once again all on the same page.
Meetings that are a big waste of time are time crimes. Extremely productive meetings are fast and concise, accomplish things and create action after the meeting. It’s up to you 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.