Topic 9.4: Managing meetings

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Meetings are at the heart of project communications, while at the same time being a source of irritation.

Too many meetings are ineffective in that they are poorly planned, have no clear purpose and unnecessarily include way too many people.

An agenda is the mini-project plan that no good meeting should be without!

It stipulates:

What the meeting objectives are (business case / charter)

Who needs to be there (stakeholders)

What we are going to talk about (WBS)

How long we are going to spend on each item (schedule), and

What resources are required (budget)

For that, we need to know…

What information do decision-makers need before the meeting?

How long before the meeting do they need it?

What else do they need in the meeting to assist decision-making?

What could possibly go right or wrong (risks)?

There are also a number of environmental factors that will influence a meeting’s outcomes, such as:

Each meeting will follow a standard format, usually beginning with:

confirmation of attendees, and any apologies from people not present

The discussion of and acceptance of the minutes of the previous meeting

The business of the meeting; that is, the items listed in the agenda for discussion

A discussion of any other business that may be relevant to the group, but was not formally notified in the agenda, and

Confirmation of the next meeting venue and date.

Obviously the bulk of a meeting’s time should be allocated to the discussion of the items flagged in the agenda; for example, in a one-hour meeting you should devote approximately 40-45 minutes to this activity.

Leaving other business to the end of the meeting prevents the meeting being hijacked by items that are only partially relevant to the objectives of the meeting and some attendees.

It also encourages participants to give appropriate notice – via the agenda – of the risks or issues they wish to raise, so that the discussion can be fully informed and no one is ambushed or caught unawares.

Playing on the phone in the meeting
How rude!

It is important, too, that meeting ground rules are clearly understood and agreed to, such as turning off mobile phones.

You should also visibly make a real-time record of the meeting, and ensure that results, decisions and actions required are summarised and distributed.

This record is called the minutes of the meeting.

The meeting chair – that is, the person who sets the agenda and runs the meeting to plan – is therefore responsible for prioritising these considerations and allowing sufficient time for each agenda item.

They must also ensure that they get the full participation of each attendee; otherwise, why invite them in the first place!?

How you do this is something we will explore in the next topic.

Have you ever been in a meeting like this?

Welcome to project management…

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