It’s a fact of business life: every project requires periodic meetings where the stakeholders get together to discuss the project’s goals, assigned tasks, and progress. It’s up to the project manager to determine how often to meet and to create an agenda for each meeting. This is not a task to be taken lightly: if you waste people’s time, they will become resentful and uncooperative, which puts the project’s success in jeopardy.
The following tips from AMA’s seminar Project Management for Administrative Professionals will help ensure that each of your project meetings directly contributes to the overall success of your project.
- The actual work of the project should be done outside the meeting.
- Meet only when there is no other practical way to achieve your aims.
- Look for alternatives to a meeting to distribute information, using electronic tools whenever possible. It is seldom justifiable to bring people together physically simply to share status or provide information.
- Avoid holding a weekly meeting.
- Keep meetings as brief as possible.
Type of Meetings
Kickoff: Present the project goals, introduce the participants, and decide on certain logistical questions; the first time a team gets together, the project sponsor usually speaks to them and generates enthusiasm.
Planning: Develop the project plan; assign roles and responsibilities; make decisions about how the project will be carried out.
Walk-through: Read through the project plan and/or significant documentation to uncover problems and clarify information.
Problem Solving: Solve problems that require several members of the team and/or management; generate alternative solutions.
Debrief: Provide critical information to higher levels of management. Focus on goals, results, budget, schedule; seek approval for next steps where appropriate.
Presentations: Make a formal presentation to managers, stakeholders, and others about the results at the end of the project.
Milestone: Conduct formal reviews of progress against plan at critical points defined in the project plan when important interim steps are completed; present interim results.
Managing a Project Meeting
It s important for the team to get together periodically to make decisions. You may facilitate meetings that involve people who do not report to you or who have higher positions in the company than you do. They may want to take over the meetings. Establish clear procedures at the beginning. Let people know that although you will be chairing the meetings, they will be making the decisions. Your role is to help the group make good decisions.
Follow these simple guidelines to keep meetings on track:
- Use technology to facilitate your meetings.
- Plan meetings in detail. Ask the team members for items or objectives.
- Establish the purpose and objectives. Every meeting needs a purpose, something to be accomplished. Objectives are specific results that provide measures for success.
- Circulate the agenda in advance. Include any information that needs to be reviewed ahead of time for discussion and decision making. Construct the agenda and times to achieve the desired objectives.
- Stick to the agenda. Review the meeting purpose and objectives. Follow the times you have assigned. If it looks as if an item will require additional discussion, ask the group if they want to extend the discussion and which agenda item should receive less time.
- Assign roles. Most meetings need someone to facilitate the meeting, someone to document the meeting and/or write on the flip chart, and someone to monitor time.
- Start and end on time. If someone is late for a meeting, begin without him or her. Don’t punish the people who come on time.
- Record brainstorming items or other important information on a flip chart to keep ideas in front of people and to stimulate discussion. Transcribe these notes as part of the minutes as necessary.
- Ask each person to speak in turn. This helps keep the discussions orderly and ensures that everyone’s ideas are heard.
- Keep the group focused on the purpose, objectives, and agenda.
- Recap the meeting. At the end of the meeting, review the decisions, accomplishments, and action plan to make sure every decision will be carried out by a particular person within a particular timeframe.
- Provide meeting documentation to participants as soon as possible after the meeting.
Taking the minutes at the meetings of the project team often falls to the administrative professional. Meeting documentation should be brief and to the point. In most cases there is no need to keep details of all of the discussions. Record the decisions that the group makes and an action plan of what will be done by whom, and when and how these activities will be measured. If the group generates a list of ideas, record them for future reference. Circulate the document immediately. Add new tasks to the master plan.
Meetings include many complex interactions. Some of them are predictable. Try to anticipate these interactions and deal with them as they occur. These are often referred to as team, group or meeting dynamics. Some of these are related to the task and some to the personalities.
- Set ground rules. The team should establish a code of conduct at the first meeting and post it at each meeting.
- Model the behavior you want. Use active, assertive communication to present your expectations to the group.
- Keep meetings focused on the purpose, objectives, and agenda.
- Encourage full participation. Establish the habit of going around the group and asking each person for input on every question in turn. Discourage people from speaking out of turn.
- Focus on facts. Ask each person to back his or her opinions with facts. Keep the group focused on making good, fact-based decisions.
- Seek alternatives. For each agenda item, review the available information and ask each person for his or her opinion, input, ideas, interpretation, or for alternative solutions.
- Share your point of view. After the team members have shared their opinions and facts, share your own. It’s important for people to know where you stand.
- Clarify issues. When confusion, misunderstanding, or serious disagreements occur, ask everyone to clarify and ask questions yourself for clarification.
- Analyze objectively. In proposing solutions and choosing among alternatives, ask the group to be as objective as possible.
- Discuss consequences. Ask everyone to discuss the consequences of any potential decisions. Focus on people and situations. Discuss positives and negatives and try to weigh likely outcomes.
- Summarize the discussion. Pull together all of the information and ideas that have been shared and suggest the emerging solution.
- Seek consensus. Continue the discussion until the group agrees on the next action step. In consensus, they may not “like” the conclusion but agree that they can “live with it.” It is very important to create a win-win environment and avoid the win-lose consequences of a vote.
- Evaluate the meeting. At the end of the meeting, reserve a few minutes in the agenda for the group to evaluate what has transpired. This is not a time to rehash the discussions, but to share feelings and ideas about how efficient and effective the meeting was and how it could be improved next time.
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