Project managers and project team members, like all business professionals, attend numerous meetings of various types, purposes and durations. Examples range from status update meetings, which generally last 30 minutes to an hour and are focused on reporting on the current status of the project, to performance reviews, on the other hand, which last from one to several days.
For project managers, meeting planning falls under the more general domain of project communications management. Meetings, like other forms of communication, are evaluated in terms of the degree to which they facilitate the efficient and effective achievement of project objectives. Consequently, the costs associated with holding meetings are weighed against the benefits derived from the meetings.
The project manager must consider not just the direct costs of staging the meeting, but also the costs associated with having personnel attend the meeting instead of doing other project-related work.
From this perspective, the importance of properly planning for meetings is clear: Poorly planned meetings can be costly endeavors that have a low probability of contributing value to the project.
The first and most important question the project manager must ask is: “What is the purpose to be served by holding this meeting?”
Is the purpose of holding the meeting merely to provide attendees with information, or are the attendees expected to work together to generate new information? Are attendees expected to arrive at key decisions during the meeting, or are they merely gathering information during the meeting for decisions to be made at a later time?
Very importantly, meetings themselves are rarely considered to be deliverables, but instead are considered to be venues or systems utilized to produce deliverables (e.g., decisions made, clarification of issues achieved, documents produced, etc.).
Clearly determining the purpose of the meeting often contributes significantly to answering other key questions involved in planning for the meeting.
1. Who should attend?
2. Where should the meeting be held?
3. Is remote attendance by teleconferencing or video-conferencing needed/appropriate?
4. What documents must be prepared for dissemination?
5. What equipment must be made available (e.g., laptops, projection screens, white boards, flip-charts)?
6. Will food/refreshments be provided?
The meeting planner needs to clearly envision the meeting as s/he wants/expects it to be carried out. It often is helpful to develop a storyboard in order to clearly visualize (and plan for) the phases of the meeting; clearly state what one wants to accomplish during each phase and the actions that will need to be taken during each phase in order to accomplish each of the meeting objectives.
While developing the storyboard, it also is helpful to simultaneously develop any needed checklists to be used during the meeting to ensure that nothing is forgotten (e.g., that minutes are captured, action items are assigned and summaries of the meeting’s accomplishments and decision points are generated and then disseminated).
Once the logistics are clear and the meeting planner has a clear vision of the intended meeting in mind, s/he is now ready to develop the meeting agenda.
The agenda should include the following information.
• Proposed topics for discussion
• Discussion leader for each topic
• Time allotted to each topic
Next, a meeting invitation, along with the meeting agenda, should be mailed/e-mailed to the expected attendees — no less than one to two weeks prior to the meeting date. The meeting invitation should clearly state the goals of the meeting, where and when the meeting will be held and whether participants are allowed to request additional agenda items, and if so, how and within what timeframe. (If additional agenda items are allowed, a revised and final meeting agenda should be distributed to attendees no later than two days prior to the meeting.)
Meetings, like projects themselves, go through the phases of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closeout.
While conducting the meeting, the meeting leader executes the meeting plan that has been developed and monitors and controls the meeting to ensure that the meeting plan is followed. The meeting is closed out by ensuring that all items on the meeting checklists have been completed (or moved forward to future meetings). Closeout also includes ensuring that action items generated by the meeting have been listed and that individuals have been assigned to each action item. The final step in closing out meetings is to distribute and finalize the meeting minutes.
Meeting management — including meeting planning — is not unique to the field of project management. However, applying some of the tools, techniques and methods utilized by project managers to the process of meeting management can increase the chances of holding meetings that genuinely add value to one’s business endeavors.
Robert Ware is vice president of Instruction for Project Masters Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com or call 410-772-6316, ext. 118.