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Make your project meetings work for you

Meetings are essential for a project to be completed successfully. They should be a chance to iron out problems, discuss solutions, appropriate resources and air views, concerns and ideas.

And yet, all too often, project meetings run on too long and are a monumental waste of a lot of time. The items under discussion could have been so much more productive with more achieved.

How do you reach the heady heights of project meetings working for you?

AGILE THINKING AND THE PROCESS OF PROJECT MEETINGS

Agile thinking is the ability to apply suppleness and flexibility when the business or project management landscape changes. And this includes how projects are facilitated, as well as why there is one called in the first place.

Essential they may be, but to make for an energising project meeting, you need to plan and strategise them carefully, something that is covered in the APM project planning course.

1. NECESSARY ATTENDEES

It can be tempting to assume that because you operate an all-inclusive team environment that everyone who is everyone needs to be invited.

It may be, however, that in the case of a certain meeting focusing on a key area, that you need only representatives from key sectors of the team.

This is not about exclusion but pinpointing what input the meeting needs to move the project to where it needs to be.

Bigger groups are useful for when problems and solutions need brainstorming or there needs to be a review of the project thus far.

2. AGENDA

In effect, deciding who does or doesn’t need to be there depends on the agenda.

An agenda is a list of things that need to be discussed and actioned at a meeting. A meeting without an agenda is a like a ship without a tiller, at the mercy of each wave to push it around and following no particular course.

But an agenda can also be the tool that sets out clearly the objective of the meeting, something that is essential. It may sound a little contrite but if it’s not on the agenda, it’s not being discussed!

Contact attendees before the meeting with the agenda and ask if there is anything else that needs discussing. Keep items under ‘any other business’ short and small. Circulate the final agenda in advance asking for feedback and opinions for when the discussion starts.

3. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Project management can, at times, becomes complex. There is the budget to examine, the product to review, resources to be re-allocated and so on. This means certain people producing information that needs to be discussed.

Disseminating it on the day and asking for meaningful feedback is a futile exercise. This is why any additional information should be distributed before the meeting. This way, people have a chance to think about what it is they want to contribute based on the information they have.

4. START ON TIME

A small point but one that is deceptively simple yet makes a big difference: starts on time.

5. ACCURATE RECORDS

Making minutes of project meetings is a practice as old as time’s itself but taking effective and true minutes is a more difficult skill.

Rather than it being a text-laden and garbled text of who said what to whom and when, create a simple to read table – use Microsoft’s One Note, for points or even Excel – with main agenda items in one column, a summary of the discussion in the next column and in the third column what action is being taken.

This table can be circulated before the next meeting, acting as a short but detailed account of where things were at, how the project was being moved on and who was responsible for what and – the important bit! – by when.

6. CONSENSUS DECISIONS

Agile thinking brings many skills to the fore in project management, one being the collaborative approach to decision making. A diverse team is a strong team, steeped in innovative practices and solutions.

But it is not always an easy space for everyone to agree. Respectful conflict is the tool that moves projects on from ordinary to extraordinarily successful and so consensus decision is key in making a decision within a team that ‘doesn’t put anyone’s nose out of joint’ or stalls the project with disagreement.

Be prepared – this could be a prolonged process but one from which you could learn so much.

7. SUMMARY AND ACTION

You may have been discussing key areas of the project for 20 minutes or you may have set aside a whole afternoon to reach a consensus decision on the next step, no matter how short or long your project meetings, you need to wrap them up with a clear, concise ‘summary and action’.

Review what was discussed, who agreed to take to key points and roles. But you also need to make expectations clear and that people who have agreed to take on certain actions.

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