Keeping Minutes, Wasting Hours

22 January, 2015

When all is said and done, more is said than done. Many meetings can be summed up like this. They can be extremely tedious and quite unproductive. Many managers simply do not appreciate the cost of meetings and, because of this, do not strive to ensure they get a return on investment.

For Project Managers who have studied the Project Management Institute’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), meetings are offered as tools / techniques in 17 of the 47 project management processes. To obtain PMP® certification, Project Managers will realize straightaway that meetings are vital parts of the planning processes and appear in some monitor / control processes too. Listing off the 17 instances gives:

For someone preparing for the PMP® exam, most of these are pretty intuitive. It is reassuring to know that meetings are included in all the planning processes, but you may wonder why they appear in so few of the monitoring and controlling processes. Would not validating scope involve a meeting with the customer? Similarly, should we not have a meeting with our suppliers to ensure that the terms of the contracts have been met? In practice, there probably will be far more meetings than this.

But let us not write off the PMBOK® Guide as offering poor advice. It does have some useful words of wisdom about the meetings themselves. The first of these relates directly to the cost of meetings: “Each attendee should have a defined role to ensure appropriate participation”. How often have you, as the Project Manager, invited the entire project team along to a meeting when the issues discussed have only involved a subset of the group? Interested parties should be aware that the meeting is taking place and also need to be informed about what happened in the meeting (the minutes). It is good project management practice to document the outcomes of meetings and it is much more cost effective to distribute minutes than to have everybody attend in person.

Another useful piece of advice from the PMBOK® Guide is its classification of meetings. It suggests that there are three types and these should not be mixed up:

  1. Information Exchange: These can often be very informal, where stakeholders meet just to keep themselves up to date on what everyone else is doing on the project. Probably the most familiar example of this sort of meeting is the weekly status meeting. These can be tremendously inefficient, as they usually involve a series of dialogues between the Project Manager and each project team member in turn. It is better if the Project Manager gathers status from everyone individually first and then convenes a meeting where s/he gives an overview of status to the group. What can be really interesting is to pick one team member a week to give a presentation on their own area. This can improve people’s morale and add interest to the meeting.
  2. Brainstorming: Because of the uncertainty associated with projects, Project Managers often encounter obstacles along the way. Some of these can be intensely technical and need to be discussed in depth with technical experts. Getting experts together can lead to amazing discussions, with possible solutions being proposed and criticized until an appropriate course of action emerges. Obviously, highly opinionated experts can argue their cases long after their ideas have been shown as lacking, so the Project Manager needs to take chairing these meetings seriously.
  3. Decision-making: Brainstorming, or even solitary analysis, can lead to a set of alternative courses of action. In some cases, the Project Manager may make the decision, but in others approval is needed from people outside the project team. We might need extra funding or a more lenient deadline, so convincing arguments need to be made to the Project Sponsor. Similarly, we might want to implement a different solution to the one originally planned, so we need to get the end customer’s blessing before making this change. As with all meetings, these need to be prepared well in advance. The decision makers need to be presented with the pros and cons of each alternative in advance of the meeting and the meeting itself used to make the decision. It might be appropriate to summarize the options, but this is not the forum to introduce the options for the first time – the attendees need to have time to consider the alternatives.

Whatever about the PMP® exam, wise Project Managers prepare well for any meetings. They will take the time to construct an accurate agenda and ensure that the agenda is followed during the meeting. A good idea is to set a target-duration for the meeting and make sure it finishes on time – be aware how much these gatherings cost. After the meeting the meetings must be written and circulated. Make sure everyone is happy with them – often vital issues get lost because the Project Manager got so engrossed in the discussion, s/he forgot to take notes.

Meetings are important in any project. An effective Project Manager can use them to ensure clear communications with the team and with key stakeholders.

Velopi’s PMP® Exam Preparation courses cover Project Communications Management and all the other knowledge areas needed to obtain PMP® certification. Please visit our training page or contact us directly if you are interested in this, or any of the other project and program management courses we offer.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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