Should Meetings be Included in your Schedule?

17 August, 2015

One of our students posed a question recently: should meetings be included in your project schedule? Our first thoughts were no, there is enough in the schedule already. But then we said: hang on, maybe there are some meetings that represent vital milestones – validation meetings with the customer, approval meetings with the regulators, etc. Before long though, we had come down firmly on the side of including all meetings in the project schedule.

By making the project meetings explicit, the Project Manager is acknowledging that they take time and consume resources. It is amazing how many project meetings are called during projects on an ad-hoc basis without any regard for the sheer cost of these things. In a previous article, we outlined what the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK© Guide) had to say about meetings and its key point is that every meeting needs to have a purpose. You can have brainstorming meetings, you can exchange information at meetings and you can make decisions. The important thing is not to mix and match. A clearly focused meeting will not take as long as one where there is no clear goal.

But how does a Project Manager arrive at that focus? Adding meetings explicitly into the project schedule seems a very effective way. For instance, suppose you are used to having a weekly project status meeting that normally takes an hour. Is this because it needs to take an hour or is it because the room boking system only takes bookings by the hour? If this is implicit in the project schedule, you will find yourself scheduling team members to do 40 hours’ worth of project work every week, forgetting that you are taking one hour out of this for the project status meeting.

Now if this project status meeting is included in your project schedule and your project lasts a year, you are likely to spend a total of 48 hours exchanging status information. This means that six days’ worth of the project team’s effort has gone into these meetings. How can a Project Manager justify this?

If you are struggling to manage your own time as the Project Manager, cutting these project status meetings to 30 minutes will free up three more days for you on a 12-month project. Not only that, you have given the project team an extra three days as well.

Although we live in an era of blatant cost-cutting, reducing these project status sessions might be counter-productive. Building a project team identity and instilling a sense of purpose into individual project team members is all part and parcel of the Project Manager’s job. So why not elaborate these project meetings? Maybe invite the Project Sponsor to attend the early sessions to outline the vision for the project – what importance it has for the organization. Then, as the project comes close to completion, bring in the field installation people and have them discuss their requirements. This will provide the development project team with useful insights into what they have to produce in order to transition their deliverables successfully to the support organizations.

During the development of the product, service or result, these project status meetings can be used to showcase one project team member’s work at a time. This has a useful effect on team members, because it gives them a chance to present before their peers – a useful experience, as presentation skills will be vital to them in more senior roles. It also allows the rest of the team an opportunity to look above the parapet for a moment and consider aspects of the project that are outside their immediate scope.

Similarly, decision-making meetings should be brief. Project decision-makers need to be presented with the arguments for and against each decision well in advance of the meeting. They need to be canvassed for their views and presentations need to be scheduled if they cannot make up they minds. The actual decision making meeting should be extremely brief. The decision makers come together to declare formally what their decision is. Ideally, there should be a unanimous decision but, depending on the nature of the company, one individual can override the rest. The important thing is that minutes are taken and the votes recorded. Then that project meeting will have delivered a tangible result.

By adding meetings to the project’s schedule, the Project Manager has placed them under the spotlight. As schedule activities, these meetings have been acknowledged as consuming time and resources. But, implicitly, it also puts them under pressure to deliver something to the overall project. It might be an explicit decision, but it also might be an intangible benefit, such as better team morale. But, by forcing the Project Manager to consider meetings from a return on investment perspective, adding meetings to the schedule will ensure that there are no pointless project meetings and better management of the remaining ones.

Meetings are needed at all stages of a project’s lifecycle. See how they support the Project Manager’s role by attending one of our Project Management Professional (PMP)© exam preparation courses. These are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway for your convenience. For more details of these and other courses, please visit our web-site or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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