FIGHTING THE BEAST OF INEFFICIENT PROJECT MEETINGS

 

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Whenever talking to other professionals about their projects frequently the same complain comes up “I am spending way too much time in project meetings and reviews and nothing really gets accomplished”. Does this sound familiar to you too?

So how comes we are spending that much time talking to other professionals and still are often left with the feeling of no accomplishment at all. Of course there are many aspects that can contribute to the effectiveness of meetings such as sending agenda ahead of time, time assigned to each topic, starting on time, and finishing on time. All these contribute to make meetings more effective and still sometimes we still end up with the void feeling that we did not get the information that we need for our project and the product we are trying to create as part of this project. Let’s step back for a moment and review briefly what project management is about.

 

The purpose of project management is to help transform business goals and objectives into a process to create products or services that generate revenue. It takes the definition of a goal, the expenditure of resources, knowledge, time, effort, risks and investment (Input factors) to turn them into a product with revenue and customer (Output factors). Processes based on standards and methodologies effect the transformation of the Input factors to the Output factors.

In order to deliver a high quality product to the market, it becomes critical to assess truthful project information throughout the duration of a project. Projects have to be managed within certain constraints which are a complex mix of time, budget, scope (including quality), also called triple constraint model. Managing a project within these constaraints builds the basis for a successfull project outcome.

Project status meetings and reviews are an essential means to evaluate the status of a project. As project managers we often focus very much on the logistics of the project such as when finding out at what time certain activities have to take place. We can actually sometimes become very driven when it comes to asking what the status of a certain activity is and by when it will be accomplished or as a friend mentioned to me recently “these project managers can become very annoying when it comes to collecting status information”. He also added “…. And often they are not interested in the context of information”.

What my friend tries to say here is that as project managers we often focus on the process side of a project. From time to time we are getting carried away by the fact a project gets delayed or over budget and what can be done by all means to bring it in instead of spending time to fully understanding the cause of the problem that often is related to the product of the project.

To identify project information two views must be taken: the product and the process view.

In project meetings and reviews we often ask questions that relate to the process side of the project and not so much the product side of the project.

Questions for the product view have the goal to identify more detailed product attributes. The process view questions help to understand what work flow and approaches are taken to create and roll out the product. Managers use their personal standards as well as the organizations value system to evaluate projects progress and success. I have been in project where management asked for a lot or meetings and often reiterated the same information in these meetings. Instead of having many meetings at different ad hoc times, setting up regular project reviews ahead of time can help to meet managements need for project information and reduce the amount of time spending in meetings.

Also conducting regular project reviews supports management and the project team to make the right decisions.

Project reviews focus on the progress of the project and take place involving key project stakeholders. Stakeholders are all organizations or individuals who will be impacted positively or negatively by the outcome of the project [1]. As a project manager it is our responsibility to make sure to invite and have the right audience for our project review meetings.

Project reviews differentiate significantly from the reviews of deliverables such as design reviews or code reviews that verify the correctness of specific work products.

It has to be recognized that reviewing a project costs time and resources now, see [2]. Not asking (the right) questions will usually cost more time later. As it has to be acknowledged that time is critical for the success of a company the time focus also creates a big distraction for asking the right questions. The focus of the review questions is on obtaining information that can help to validate that the project is heading in the right direction and the approach taken is feasible.

There are five basic questions that can help acquiring the right project information during project reviews.[3]

1.      What is the product we are building?

Purpose:
Identify the goal for the project.
The answer to this question explains the scope of work and therefore triggers the understanding what resources, knowledge, time, effort and investment are associated with this product development. At the beginning of a product life cycle the product can only be vaguely described. With each review more product details are discovered.

2.      How are we building this product?

Purpose:

Helps to identify what technology, processes and methodologies are needed and applied for building the product. The answer to this question is an indicator to the risk and investment the organization is taking for this product implementation.

3.      Is this product feasible and why?

Purpose:

Identify how realistic it is to be successful with the selection of the product, the product development methodology and the project plan. The responses to these questions will be associated with the additional risk that needs to be taken to develop and deliver this product.

4.      Is this product marketable and why?

Purpose:

Identify how realistic it is to be successful with the selection of the product. The responses to this question will help to identify if the product concept can address the customer need when it is rolled out to the market.

5.      Is the plan predictable and realistic and why?

Purpose

Identify how realistic it is to be successful with the product development methodology and the project plan. The responses to this question will help to identify gaps between the plan, reality and stakeholder expectations.

 

Question one, three and four are seeking information about the product. Question two and five analyse the process for creating this product. Although all five questions could be applied to both areas this assessment focuses on the specified selection.

 

Also note that the stages of the project lifecycle have an impact on when information becomes available during the project. As project managers it is also our responsibility to be able to set the expectations in relation to when certain project information becomes available.

 

So in summary how can you beat the beast of inefficient meetings?

In conclusion the following points summarize what can be done to improve the meeting experience for you, your project team and your project stakeholder:

  • Make sure to use best practices for conducting your meetings such as use of agenda, time assigned to topics, invite the right people, send out meeting minutes after the meeting and so forth.
  • Reduce the number of unnecessary meetings by setting up regular project reviews
  • Use the five basic questions and/or modifications of them as a baseline for getting the information that helps your project stakeholders to understand what the project is about and how well it is doing.
  • As in the role of a project manager understand the project lifecycle your project is following in detail.
  • Set the expectations of your project stakeholders in regards to what information is available at what point of your project life cycle.

REFERENCES

1.      Project Management Institute,.(2000) “A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) ,Newtown Square, PA.

2.      G.Chroust and H.Lexen, (1999), “Software inspections-theory, new approaches and an experiment”, EUROMICRO Conference, 1999. Proceedings. 25th, pp. 286 – 293 vol.2.

3.      S.Koppensteiner, (2006), “The Significance of Right Timing for Project Reviews in Software Development Projects”, SD Best Practices conference, Boston .

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