How to call and run effective project meetings
It’s true that meetings are often called to provide the perception that a project is progressing and the attendees leave the meeting feeling that nothing was resolved on or progressed. A project manager’s key role is to facilitate work, either your own on a small project, or other people’s. To be a good project manager it is vital that you are able to facilitate effective meetings that deliver measurable outcomes.
The critical first step is to ensure that the meeting is worth having. A meeting provides a forum for a number of people to discuss an issue or generate a solution. As a general guide it is effective to meet face to face: at the project kick off, to discuss interim results, and when the final result is provided.
Have clear meeting objectives. For example, your meeting objective at a project meeting may be to: have all project team members understand the project plan and have documented project risks. In most cases it will be appropriate to include your meeting objective on the meeting agenda. Occasionally, typically when you meet with a smaller group, you may have a few personal objectives that are not articulated. An example would be “to strengthen the relationship with the Engineering team “.
Set an agenda with specific times, and stick to the meeting length. As much as possible keep your meetings short, sweet and to the point. Nothing is a sole destroying as a meeting that goes on and on. Suggested meeting lengths are: 15 mins ‚Äì discussing one specific document, 30 mins ‚Äì discussing one particular issue, 60 mins ‚Äì detailed recap of project issues, 90 mins ‚Äì detailed discussion and workshopping. If you feel you need to meet for longer than 90 minutes re-examine your agenda for items that can be well summarised in a memo and circulated for information outside of a meeting. Circulating the agenda and objectives for comments, as a general rule one week in advance of your meeting, will ensure the meeting meets other attendees’ expectations.
Pre-reading should be circulated beforehand if appropriate. Ensure that you circulate necessary material and make it clear to meeting attendees that they will be expected to have read the material prior to the meeting. In particular consider providing a status update on the project or issue you are discussing and an updated action list, if relevant. An action list will remind attendees of their commitments and assist in maintaining focus on the project.
Ensure that the meeting has a clear chairperson responsible for keeping the meeting on time and the discussion on track. When starting the meeting set the scene for what the meeting will focus on by stating the objectives, and informing attendees that you will be keeping to the meeting topic.
A good method to ensure that the meeting stays on topic is take important items “offline ” (discuss items later outside the meeting) if they are not on the agenda. This allows you to acknowledge contributions without getting the meeting off-track. Meetings should be about collaboration and brain storming, so make sure you balance efficiency with allowing time to gather ideas and solve problems.
At the end of the meeting recap on agreed actions, next steps and the progress you have made during the meeting. Send out a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting or by close of business that day. Meeting minutes should be to an appropriate level. Formal meeting minutes may be appropriate or a short email summary may suffice. This will depend on your judgement. However as a guide a meeting with the project leadership team reporting on the status of the project should have formal minutes produced for agreement within a week of the meeting. A meeting with one or two of the project team members needs a summary of the key outcomes of the meeting but does not necessarily have to be in the form of formal minutes. It is better to send out a quick summary straight after the meeting than delay issuing minutes to get them just right.
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