The project manager's top responsibility is communication. Excellent, effective, and efficient communication is the basis for all successful project engagements. It's how:
- Business processes get clearly explained and understood
- Detailed requirements get properly defined and documented
- Task assignments get disseminated and reported on for ongoing progress
- Status updates get reported to the project customer and other key stakeholders
Key elements of project communications are:
- Regular project status meetings
- Internal project meetings with the project delivery team
- As-needed project meetings to assign tasks, make decisions, or discuss critical issues that arise
How we prepare and plan, execute, and follow up on these meetings and communications is key to their success, as well as the success of the overall project engagement.
5 Elements of the Best Project Meetings
There are many ways to prepare for, execute on, and follow up on meetings. Doing so correctly can mean the difference between a very successful and informative meeting that reaches its goals and ensures that everyone is on the same page, or leaving the attendees divided on understanding what is expected of them for next steps.
What that means for the project is the potential for great success or catastrophic failure or anything in between. There are five key elements of the best project meetings that need to be considered.
1. Plan well
Step one in the process is to plan the meeting well. Many consider this unnecessary or do not put enough effort into the preparation step, but a well-planned and well-executed meeting can ensure that the goals of the meeting are addressed. Most meetings have – or at least should have – a key purpose such as: providing a status update, conducting a regular status meeting, getting one or more important decisions made, or kicking off a new project.
The project manager is responsible for preparing for the meeting but can and should use his project team members to assist as needed. Prepare an agenda, plan who to invite – keeping the list to only those necessary – and decide on where it will take place, when it will take place, and how much time will be needed to accomplish the goals of the meeting.
2. Prepare all potential attendees
Next, prepare all intended participants by sending out the agenda and any associated notes in advance. This notification serves two major purposes:
- Informs the intended participants that they are expected to attend and participate
- Gives attendees information about the meetings so that they can come to the meeting prepared and ready to contribute
The result is a more productive, effective, and efficient meeting than would otherwise be possible, so the project manager is more likely to reach the goals of the meeting.
3. Execute the meeting
Whether this is a regularly scheduled meeting or one called to accomplish a specific purpose, the next step is to execute the meeting. On projects, the facilitator is likely the project manager. The key things here are:
- Start on time
- End on time
- Stay on topic
The project manager must maintain the reputation as an excellent meeting facilitator who runs productive and focused meetings.
Don't waste people's time. That is the best way to keep attendance high and participation at a maximum.
4. Take great notes
Either take good notes as the project manager or have someone designated to take good notes. All discussions, decisions, and status updates should be noted:
- Anything that is in addition to the notes going in
- Anything that is contrary to the notes going in
- Assignments made
- Updates given
- Decisions made
All this information needs to be thoroughly documented in as much detail as possible for the next step.
5. Follow up post-meeting
Always follow up after the meeting. Using the detailed notes covering the outcomes from the meeting, the information should be sent to all attendees to keep everyone on the same page. Ask that all attendees review the notes and provide any revisions or feedback that should be incorporated.
The project manager is expected to be a master meeting facilitator and excellent communicator, but that doesn't mean they will always document everything appropriately and accurately. Ask for attendees to provide feedback within 24 hours. Review all feedback, update notes as needed, and redistribute to all attendees. This will serve the purpose of ensuring everyone is on the same page as you move on to next steps on the project.
Additional Project Meeting Concepts to Consider
Even when regularly-scheduled meetings seem unnecessary given the current state of the project or lack of recent activity, conduct the meeting. If the project manager starts canceling regular meetings, attendees will start to consider attendance as optional and attendance will fall off.
At minimum, continue with the regular meeting and go around the room to get short updates even if it's only a 10-minute meeting. You never know when some critical piece of information may be shared that would otherwise fall through the cracks, causing costly re-work and timeline issues.
Avoid mid-afternoon meetings, and never bring food
A meeting held after lunch runs the risk of having sleepy attendees who won't be paying as much attention to the discussions.
The same concern is applicable to providing food. It distracts attendees and can give the project manager the reputation as the food guy, which is not the professional and focused project leader portrayal they want to maintain.
Consider banning laptops
This may be a tough sell and a very unpopular move, so consider it carefully before incorporating it.
Laptops have been accepted as note-taking devices. However, at least 50% of the attendees who bring laptops will also be checking email, doing other work or even checking social media, meaning they are not staying focused on the discussions happening in the meeting.
Don't start late for latecomers, or they will always come late
Don't bring latecomers up to speed for the same reason (unless it's the CEO, then do whatever they want).
Halt side discussions before they take the meeting completely off track. If a side meeting or follow-up meeting needs to happen, that's fine. The key is to accomplish the goals of this meeting and move on. If you stretch this meeting into something beyond what was originally intended, you could end up infringing on attendees' schedules by running long, and that will only serve to hurt future attendance and participation.
Project meeting perfection is likely impossible to achieve. However, every meeting the project manager executes should end up being the best it can be by following these concepts:
- Planning well
- Informing attendees in advance of meeting goals
- Executing effectively by staying on time and on topic
- Taking good notes
- Following up post-meeting with notes and requesting updates
Meeting communication is a key project success factor that translates into a higher likelihood of success for the project. Why? Because the project manager is keeping everyone informed and on the same page, avoiding expensive and time-consuming mistakes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings that can compromise or even destroy the project.