Making meetings work for you and your project


I can remember very clearly the worst meeting I was ever involved in. A “flagship” municipal project with the potential to bring world admiration to a city.

This new project needed new IT systems. So 44 of us sat in a room together — architects, engineers, program and project managers, business analysts, change managers, release managers, developers, administrators. No one knew what the next step was. No one knew the scope of the program, or the timescales, or the fundamentals, or the costs and benefits. The only thing we knew was that ‘it had to be done.’ But, of course, nothing was done. 44 people wasted two hours of their time … on a major infrastructure project, that was essential for a city’s future!

Has a similar thing ever happened to you?

Meetings can take up half of a senior executive’s working week. That’s way too much. We, as project managers, can help alleviate this problem. It starts with a change in mindset. We need to be conscious of the costs of an employee’s time, and this concern needs to be conveyed to project staff at every level.

Andy Grove, founder and ex-CEO of Intel, had fierce views on the cost of a meeting. “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers,” he said.

There is also a great tool from the Harvard Business Review – that enables you to put a price on each meeting you hold.

We can inject further discipline into the scheduling of meetings by looking at the approach of 3G Capital. Their zero-based budgeting concept doesn’t allow for new meetings unless an older, previously arranged meeting is cancelled.

This ensures that the team is aware of the costs of a meeting.

Other ideas to regulate meetings and ensure their maximum productivity include:

  • Reduce the meeting length by half,
  • Set a maximum number of participants per meeting
  • End meetings fast if the productive part has come to an end.
  • Enforce the start-time and attendance on-time
  • Ensure the meeting is prepared for, if not, then postpone
  • Ensure there is an agenda – no agenda, no meeting
  • Ensure every meeting has an objective – no objective, no meeting
  • Ensure meetings don’t just happen – they have endorsement, and everyone knows why they are there

Now, as for the best meeting I’ve ever attended –it was a ‘Go / No Go’ meeting, scheduled for an hour. The stakeholders were briefed, management was briefed, the team was briefed. An information pack was sent beforehand, an agenda was prepared. Attendees were confirmed.

And the result? A scheduled hour-long meeting took 5 minutes and a ‘Go’ decision was reach, much to the benefit of the business.

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