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Getting the Most Out Of Your Project Meetings

Getting the Most Out Of Your Project Meetings. We all have been there, probably some more than most… you know, when you are in a project meeting and you find yourself asking, “Why am I here?”  Especially in bigger projects, it is quite common to be called into project meetings frequently on different topics.  And if you aren’t careful, you will find that you are in project meetings planning more than actually project managing!

So what do I do?  Simple!  I just don’t attend the project meetings!  OK, all jokes aside.  Obviously I have to attend the project meetings and simply not showing up is a luxury that most PM’s do not have. You need regular project meetings to exchange information, clarify issues and coordinate the works. However, the project meetings must be more efficient and effective to gain the maximum result in the shortest possible time (and to make more time for you to manage the rest of the project).

Below I am giving the best practices to run the most effective project meetings possible so that you can get to the point and then get to work:

Be clear about your project meetings objective

A project meetings must have a specific purpose. If it is a technical project meetings that reviews the design progress in your EPC project, the topic is clear, however specify in detail the purpose for TODAY’s project meeting when you invite the participants.   What is the intention?  What would you like to achieve by the end of the project meeting?  Give a clear agenda of what is required and what needs to be achieved. When this is set, project meetings participants know what the project meetings are about and can prepare accordingly.

Sometimes an individual will need to make a decision during a project meetings, so you might need to schedule a pre-project meetings first to discuss the topic and prepare in detail the points to cover/decisions to be made to ensure the positive outcome in the main project meetings.

If you want specific work prepared BEFORE the project meetings, you need to specify the “homework” clearly and assign it to the right project meetings participants well-in-advance of the project meetings. Typically I do this, but I do also check one day before the project meetings if the “homework” is done or to check the draft result first to have enough time to take measures if the job is not done properly.  This is important, set your participants as well as yourself up for success before each project meetings!

Have the right participants invited to your project meetings

If you work in a large scale EPC project, certain work is becoming automated.  Sometimes people just participate in project meetings because it was the practice over the past month, but actually they cannot contribute anymore.  It could be that the right person was not invited because the job roles were not clear.  Having the right people at the project meetings will ensure you save time and energy in the long run.

Invite those people into your project meetings who can contribute and make decisions.  These people are typically very busy and it is tremendously important to cut your project meetings to the relevant content only and be well prepared to keep the key participants happy. Otherwise they will feel your project meetings is a waste of time and will not join in the future which can be detrimental to your project.

In your project meetings invitation, besides the agenda and the invitees, also provide clear information about the day, the date, the venue, start and end time of the project meetings.  If necessary, add a googlemap link so that people know where to come and how long it might take to travel.  One of the keys to a good project meetings is to set everyone up for success in advance.

Facilitate your project meetings Schedule! 

Create an agenda clear enough for all participants and fix the time for each topic and the entire project meetings and then stick to your schedule.  Be an avid time-keeper.  Everyone has their own list of things to do, and when you spend several hours in a project meetings, they will not be happy with it.  Have your agenda and schedule on the screen visible for all. If one or more participants are moving away from the topic, just bring them back to your agenda. Or if a participant is talking more than necessary, it is your facilitation lead to stop it and get the others involved as well.

Of course, starting the project meetings on time is of essence. To be punctual in project meetings is an attitude issue. I am of the opinion if people can not make it on time (consistently) for a project meetings, then the rest of their project work is typically delayed as well. Usually in the first couple of project meetings I highlight that everyone is expected to be on time.  If there are a few late stragglers, I start without them.  The ones that are on time appreciate it when we start on time.  I also do what I can to point out to the people that are late how important everyone’s time is, and request that they make proper timing adjustments in the future.

Concluding a project meetings on time is the job of the project meetings facilitator and is necessary as well to avoid clashes with other project meetings. The participants will appreciate that and you will have made more time for yourself to get your work done as well.

Where’s the focus in your project meetings?

In the new millennium, gadgets and technology have increased tremendously and it can be annoying in project meetings if participants are writing emails or texting in Facebook instead of focusing on the content to make the project meetings valuable.

I had one experience where a client who wanted me to run the project meetings on his behalf, ended up working on his laptop writing emails. When there was a question to him, he actually had no clue what the discussion was all about the the topic had to be repeated. I had no chance to ban the laptop in the project meetings, but I started to continuously asking questions like – … “and what do you think about,” or “do you want to give the priority here or you prefer something else….” Basically I keep him in constant thinking mode on the project meetings topic and he had no chance to focus on the laptop anymore.

Of course, each client is different.  But time is wasted when key people are not focused on what is happening here and now.  And time is money!

Summarize and Follow Up your project meetings

Each topic in the project meetings needs to be summarized and recorded ideally in project meetings minutes. To ensure that participants follow up on their actions, make sure the action is clearly written so that everyone understands exactly what to do and by when. Ideally this is achieved by summarizing the discussion on the topic and get the acknowledgement by all participants.

If you are still recording project meetings minutes on a paper, there is nothing wrong with this (of course some would rather stick to technology) but keep in mind that it should be distributed within 24 hours after the project meetings. It is my experience that if I record on paper, I have more recollection of details within the project meetings, but then I have to take time to type it out on my Ipad or laptop.  Nowadays I take my records on my iPad directly and distribute the actions with a click of a button as soon the action is clear. This helps me as well to monitor and control the actions and to follow up with the individuals on their results.

In summary, clear goals, good preparation and strict facilitation will help you and your team to have more effective project meetings. Set yourself and everyone up for success by checking in a day before to make sure everyone’s homework is done, and keep to your timing schedule so that you respect yours and everyone else’s time!


Peter Wyss