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How NOT to conduct project meetings

Many a time the meeting co-ordinator who has called for the meeting is ill-prepared.  This has a negative effect, in terms of lost time, low employee morale and ultimately lost productivity.  This article argues that unless better meeting management techniques are implemented, organizations will unknowingly bleed.

How we conduct meetings

Ever been to one of those meetings called in by your Project Manager (PM)?

I have.  And my experience tells me that most of us are guilty of what happens in there.

Take for example Company R-Solutions (name changed), where the PM loves to conduct 2 hour long project status meetings right on Mondays at 8:00 AM.   She is leading the 6 month US$ 250K project with 12 people onboard.  What gets discussed?  Mostly about the weather, the soap-opera or the bad traffic.  Maybe a little bit on the project, with thick fat project reports generously distributed to everyone in the meeting.  It is a different matter if anybody ever cared to read.  All said and done, this meeting could have been accomplished in less than 45 minutes flat!  Hey this was supposed to be a project meeting, NOT a social gathering.  All I remember doing with those fat project reports is to put it in the recycle bin the moment I returned to my office cubicle!  Don't be shocked.  I mean why would I want to clutter my precious little desk space with something that I don't even understand?  Some project related gibberish! (See end notes for more...**)  

Or, take MBI (name changed), where a US$ multi-billion (yes, “B”) project meeting is chaired by a very senior person.  Well this time the stakes are high, but nevertheless you can still count 20 of them in the room, most of them very senior (in age and experience).   Yes, you guessed it.   The meetings typically run no less than 2 hours, every time they meet.  Surprise of all you don’t see anyone making notes, or using the board or even passing a piece of project document around!  I can definitely tell you that some of them have no clue what’s going on there.  I was one among them.  Of course, to be fair to myself, I was only a week old on the project.  

What do you think most of them are doing?  Don’t expect a human to concentrate for 120 minutes; my reading says that 20 minutes is the maximum attention span you can command.   And of course, you don’t expect that all 20 would be involved in discussions.  Don’t be kidding, we have modern gadgets for entertainment-on-the-go.  Smart Phones, ipads, iphones.  ipods.  Laptops.  You name it, and you can find people engrossed in some side activity, even while pretending they are part of the meeting.

Why?  What is it that these meetings degenerate to be fruitless, boring endeavors?

Many reasons.   The meeting coordinator or the Chair may not have a clear agenda, may not have laid out ground rules for the meeting, not prepared for discussions, or worse, think that “they” are the boss and have people’s time at their mercy.

Well Executives, don’t deny this isn’t happening in your Organizations!  Are you kidding?  Has anyone calculated the costs?  Maybe that would be a real eye-opener.

Let’s see what the bottom line is for a ONE year project in the above scenario.

Typical billing rates for Project Managers            = US$ 150 per hour

20 people attending meetings for 2 hours a week =  20 * 2 = 40 hours

Assume 25 project status meetings for a year, which is 40 hours * 25 weeks = 1000 hours.

So, there you are.  1000 hours that cost: 1000 hours * US$ 150 / hr = US$150,000 !

If only these meetings were more efficient, bottom-line results would look significantly better!

 

Conclusions

One approach to meeting management would be for the project manager and the team to figure out the cost of the meeting to the organization.  Keeping a tight tab on this expense will open up many a possibility to better meetings.  At the same time, it is essential for the senior executives of an organization to set ground rules and live by them, since what they do gets mimicked in various ways at the subordinate staff levels.


** How did it end?

Well this is not a fiction, so there wasn't an ending.
I once decided to boycott the meeting.  I came into the office at 08:00, sat in the parking garage for 20 mins and walked into the office, right past the glassed meeting room in full view of the project manager, and never showed up for the meeting.  Later when the PM came by and asked why I didn't join the meeting, I thought I had a nice alibi - "Sorry, I came in late to the office"!!
I was even more shocked at the answer I got - "Well, you know people come in and go all the time".
"Well, I am not too excited about spending two hours for a meeting that should take less than half the time", I said in a dead pan voice.
The PM was stunned.  "Do you want to talk about this later?", she said.
"Sure you bet" I went.  That follow up meeting never happened!

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