Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Does your head want to explode whenever you attend a meeting?

As anyone who attends a lot of meetings knows, there are some that are great and motivating and then there or those that are not. Many times I have walked out of meeting with out a clue as to what the purpose of the meeting was about and no real resolutions emerged...

So, why do folks in large enterprises have so many meetings? Does the enterprise have a communication problem or is the need to communicate so much a problem itself. Is it due to the curse of the matrixed organization? How come IT executives don't ever think about reducing the amount of communication needed whenever they reorg?

How many meetings do you attend where the project managers sole purpose for calling it was for something that could have been communicated in a quick email? Do you need to see me face-to-face in order to tell how I feel on certain topics? I trust I am not alone it these experiences and would like to know how others keep the interest of those attending and how they help project managers stay focused.

Please note that I am talking about more than just having an agenda. When I was a consultant, I remembered how difficult it was to get all those PMP certified project managers to take notes during a meeting and to produce minutes. If meeting minutes aren't produced, does that mean that I have to de-optimize my daily activities on the sole chance that something profound may occur?

I can say that I've also seen great success in asking the question before a recurring meeting - "Does anyone have anything new to present or should we cancel today's meeting?" After all - why meet if there's nothing new to discuss. On a related note, a meeting is not a good place to accomplish tasks that should be handled outside the meeting, but I suspect that PMP doesn't teach this simple truth. One of my favorite phrases for meetings is - "let's take that off-line and get back with the group." Asking all attendees of a meeting to be present for a discussion that only deals with a small portion of the attendees is a waste of time for those who aren't directly involved in the decision making process.

If you see that meetings tend to start late, it's often a good idea to either reschedule so that its possible for attendees to be on-time or start enforcing the start time of the meeting and don't wait for late-comers. If your company allows it, you may also want to consider a wiki to post the notes to and provide a place for others to comment between meetings. This is especially true for roll-up meetings that include subcommittees where they hold their own meetings.

Part of having a successful meeting requires enlisting individuals with passion around a topic. If you are a non-technical project manager who is attempting to lead a highly technical discussion, then you certainly need to either step up or tap out. Focus on keeping meetings interactive and interesting. Liven it up every once in a while too with something quirky or fun. You can also shorten a meeting without prior notice once in a while - for instance letting the people know at the beginning that the normally 1 hr meeting will be cut to 1/2 hour today - what are the top 2-3 priorities to be covered? Then let them go utilize that 1/2 hour of saved time!

Noodle bringing Chocolate to meetings as a form of bribery. Prefer dark chocolate as it keeps people alert and tends to get the creative juices flowing. A worst practice is to make meetings mandatory. This is the best indicator as to the value and usefulness of the meeting. If no one shows up, it's their way of telling you that the meeting is of no value to them. If they show up voluntarily, it is a good indicator that they expect your meeting to be useful. If they show up, let them leave whenever they want, once everyone is gone (even if it's 15 minutes into the meeting) the meeting is officially over...

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