Project Planning, Scheduling and Control–Chapter 15: Managing and Facilitating Meetings


This blog post is part of a series that summarizes the 5th edition of the classic project manager’s handbook Project Planning, Scheduling & Control by James L. Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of the Lewis Institute, Inc.    I wanted to go through the book and take notes for my own use, but also in the hope that my summary would be of interest to both those already in the project management field or those who want to enter that field.

Section One of the book covers Introduction to Project Management, and contains Chapters 1 through 5.

Section Two of the book covers Project Definition, and contains Chapter 6.

Section Three of the book covers Project Planning, and contains Chapters 7 through 11.

Section Four of the book covers Execution and Control, and contains Chapters 12 and 13.

Section Five of this book covers Other Issues in Project Management, and contains Chapters 14 through 21.  This post covers chapter 15.

The essence of management is in how we run meetings–John Cleese

1.   MEETING OUTCOME OR PURPOSE

One of the best ways to improve the bottom-line performance of projects is to work on your meeting management.  The greatest sin of meeting management is to have a meeting when it is unnecessary.   Ask yourself:   can your purpose be achieved by

  • a casual stand-up meeting in some convenient location
  • a conference call
  • a net-meeting (basically a conference call plus an ability to share documents)

The second greatest sin of meeting management is to have a meeting without stating the desired outcome.   What is the purpose of the meeting?   It should be one of the following.

  • to give information
  • to get information
  • to solve a problem (including planning meetings)
  • to make a decision

Start the meeting by stating the purpose.   If someone introduces a topic that is not related to the purpose of the meeting, ask him or her to add that tangential topic to a list of topics that should be covered at a subsequent meeting.

2.   MEETING AGENDA

Here are some rules for a meeting agenda.

  • You should have an agenda for the meeting–it should be published beforehand, so that people that come to the meeting can be prepared to deal with those topics that concern them.  Do you best to keep the meetings short, effective (i.e., related to the purpose of the meeting), and effective.
  • Meetings devoted to problem-solving should have people getting up and moving around during the meeting, because this helps mental functioning and gaining new perspectives.
  • Don’t have the meeting run overtime.  
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish–a one-hour meeting can cover only three of four agenda items (15 to 20 minutes for each one)
  • Meetings that last longer than an hour should have a 5- to 10-minute break about every 50 minutes.   This not only gives people the chance for a “bio-break”, but the chance for a physical and mental break will make them more productive when the meeting starts up again.
  • The meeting should be limited to one or at most two hours.    Any meeting that requires more time than this should be broken up into smaller, separate meetings.
  • Don’t try to combine purposes of a meeting–a meeting giving status updates should not try to solve any problems that are reported in those updates.   The problem should be solved in a separate, special meeting.
  • Set aside five minutes to review your meetings before you officially end them.  Conduct a simple lessons-learned review, where you ask two questions:  1) what did we do well in this meeting? 2) what do we want to do better at the next meeting?

3.  IMPORTANT ROLES IN MEETINGS

a.  Leader-Facilitator

Usually the person who calls a meeting serves as the leader-facilitator, but some groups rotate this role so that all project team members learn how to do it.   Every participant should act a “secondary facilitator” in the sense that every member takes partial responsibility for making the meeting a success.

The specific responsibilities are as follows:

i.  Set the agenda and time limit

See the points listed under MEETING AGENDA

ii.  Keep the meeting on track

See the points listed under MEETING AGENDA

iii.  Safeguard ideas

The leader should safeguard the ideas of every participant by not rejecting ideas until they have been fully expressed, and then making sure the group builds on them and compares them before choosing the best one.

iv.  Draw out reticent members

Introverts need time to process their thoughts inside themselves before expressing them, and they tend to be distracted by external chatter.   Extroverts have to talk through an idea in order to fully understand it.   If an extrovert is talking, the introvert can’t process the information; conversely, an extrovert needs to talk in order to process the information.   The danger is that by the time an introvert has decided what he or she thinks about an issue, the extrovert has already influenced the group to go in a certain direction.

Facilitators can counteract this tendency by drawing out the introverts or underparticipators first.   Another approach is the round-robin approach, where each individual gets to say what he or she thinks about an issue.

As a side note, in Japan, where the culture places a high value on seniority, it is a common practice to ask the younger members of the team first what they think so that they won’t be inhibited by the opinions of the older members of the group.

v.  Tone down overparticipators

You want to tone down the overly active individuals without dampening their enthusiasm.   You can say “I think I’m pretty clear about your position.  Let’s see what some of our other members have to say.”

In any case, you must control participation, especially when it comes to problem-solving sessions.  According to the research done by an industrial psychologist named Norman Maier, when groups consider several options for solving a problem, the first option that gets 15 more “votes” than the others will be adopted by the group about 85% of the time, regardless of its actual merits..   Overly vocal individuals in a group can push for their preferred option until the group caves in and accepts it, even though it may not be the best solution.

A meeting leader may have to insist that vocal members speak their opinion after the others are given a chance to speak, or in the alternate, hold the round-robin technique mentioned above, insuring that at least everybody gets an equal chance to contribute.

vi.  Control side conversations

If people are having a side conversation, ask them to take it outside.   Side conversations are disrespectful of other members, both those who are speaking and those who are trying to pay attention to what is being said.

vii.  Deal with seemingly irrelevant comments

If a person makes an irrelevant comment that is not apparently related to the purpose of the meeting, rather than simply dismissing it, you should say “I’m having trouble seeing how what you’re saying is in line with what we’re trying to achieve at the moment.  Can you help me make that connection?”   That gives the person the chance to restate his or her thought so that you can see the connection.    If the comment is irrelevant, it can added to a list of items that must be discussed in another meeting, sometimes called the Parking Lot.  

When people become upset in meetings, it is useless to try to proceed with an issue until their feelings have been addressed.   Until the underlying concerns which are causing those feelings have been expressed and actually heard by the rest of the group, it is a waste of time to continue.   Here’s how to deal with feelings that get expressed in meetings:

Feeling –> Facts –> Solutions

  • Ask everyone to take time out to think about what the issue means to them.
  • Have each person summarize his feelings.
  • Honor those feelings.
  • Make sure that everyone actively listens to the feelings.   Restate what the speaker said by paraphrasing it.  This covers the substance of the person’s statement but captures his feelings as well.
  • Then you can proceed with the issues of addressing the underlying concerns.

viii.  Be similar to a conductor

As the conductor of an orchestra, you do not have to know how to play each and every instrument.   You do have to be knowledgeable about music theory, so you can express what you want to the group, and so that you will understand what the members of the group are trying to express.

In a similar way, as the leader-facilitator of the meeting, you do not have to be the expert, but you have to know enough to be able to get the experts in the group to work together towards a solution to the problem at hand.

b.  The Scribe

Someone must take notes as the meeting progresses so that the meeting minutes can be developed later on, and so that people can backtrack through the meeting to remember points that were made earlier.   This should be done on a flipchart so that everyone can see the notes.   This role should also be rotated.

c.  The Timekeeper

All agenda times are estimates of how long it will take to process each item.  The timekeeper must let the group know when the assigned time has been exceeded, and the group must decide whether to reschedule the item, push other items off the list and onto the Parking Lot for a future meeting, or extend the meeting.

4.  GUIDELINES FOR PROJECT MEETINGS

TYPE OF MEETING STATUS DESIGN PROCESS

(lessons-learned)

Purpose Review schedule, cost, performance, scope, and stakeholder expectations Technical progress Learn from success and failure to correct future performance
Focus Are we on target?

Are stakeholder expectations being met?

Is technical progress acceptable

Is the product manufacturable?

What have we done well?

What do we want to do better in the future?

Frequency Weekly or small projects; monthly or long-term jobs Major milestones Major milestones or every three months, whichever comes first
Composition Core team members; senior managers as appropriate; functional managers who provide project resources Core team members; marketing representative, design manager, manufacturing representative All team members; key stakeholders

5.  MORE POINTERS FOR STATUS MEETINGS

a.  The purpose of these meetings is to share information with everyone about the status of a project.

b.  Stoplight reporting is a simple way to show status:

  • Green means that everything is fine
  • Yellow means that a problem is developing
  • Red means that the problem is fully developed

c.  Numerical status data is available should it be needed; but focus on using stoplight reporting (see paragraph b above) to make the review as simple as possible.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: