This article explores how
to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of meetings needed to manage a
project; balancing to make sure we are not creating obstacles to getting work
done by individuals and coming together for meaningful communication and
Meetings are events at
which people come together to accomplish a purpose. They are
integral parts of projects. PMI's Project
Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) identifies meetings as
tools/techniques for directing, managing, designing, planning,
deciding, controlling and closing projects. They are forums for
project communication and collaboration - the life blood of projects.
Clearly, meetings are
a fact of life. Yet, they can be a drain on project resources, an
incredible waste of time and a barrier to progress. Project managers must
ensure that the right meetings, attended by the right people, at the right time
are managed so that they add value and do not interfere with the needs of
project performers to do the work they must do in individual, uninterrupted
The Purpose of
Meetings have a
variety of purposes, they are used to
- inform and exchange information (for
example status meetings, debriefing and presentations)
- make decisions that range from
project authorization to the color scheme on a website
- explore complex issues in
open dialogs and brainstorming sessions
- perform collaborative work, for example
designing, planning, etc.
- build emotional and psychological
connections to support teamwork
Kinds of Meetings:
Face-to-face and Virtual
There are virtual,
face-to-face, synchronous and asynchronous meetings. The right mix is important to optimize
meeting effectiveness. Face-to-face meetings enable "human
moments" – the "in-person
connection where we feel the closeness that allows bull’s eye contact, the kind
of interaction that resonates, moves people, and makes a lasting
impression. Such moments allow a powerful psychological encounter that
simply cannot happen on-line."
Face-to-face meetings support team building by
providing the room for the emotional and psychological connection that better
enables collaboration. At the same time, face-to-face meetings are
expensive, particularly when team members are not co-located. For
example, in one situation, face-to-face status meetings for a high-profile
project were being held in a location that required three of four attendees to
travel an hour to the meeting location, the office of the project's sponsor.
Each half-hour meeting therefor cost the three attendees an additional
two hours each, more than a quarter of their work day.
When we analyze the
situation, we acknowledge that the first few meetings were worth the cost.
They established relationships between the sponsor and managers
accountable for the project. With that relationship established it became
possible to transition to virtual video meetings, enabling the
three participants to make more efficient use of their time. The video simulated face-to-face contact
though it is still not the same as when the participants are co-located.
In this case, the
participants chose to keep the meetings synchronous -
the participants being present at the same time.
The alternative is an asynchronous meeting. This is often not
recognized as a meeting, since the participants are not there at
the same time. However, we can see with a closer look that a
group of people are joining together to accomplish a purpose - exchanging
status information, solving a problem, or writing and editing a document.
an asynchronous approach to our example, the status information would
have been posted on the project site and the sponsor would access it there and,
as needed, engage in a question and answer dialog by posting to the site.
This approach requires the right collaboration tools and the willingness
to use them.
The efficiency gained
by enabling the participants to choose the most convenient times and
places to engage in the "meeting" could make the exchange less
effective because the attention required to make the most of the situation
might not be there. It is far easier for attendees to be distracted when
they are not present at the same time or cannot see one another. If they are all able to see one another, peer
pressure keeps them focused. In
addition, there is the possibility that participants won’t access the site and
read or listen to the content.
Look at the costs and
benefits of different kinds of meetings and choose the ones that are most efficient
No matter what kind of
meeting, it must be meaningful. One of
the most critical goals in projects is to maximize the time project staff
spends performing productive, meaningful work. Individual and group work
sessions (e.g., collaborative design sessions) generally are most effective
when they have two to four hours of uninterrupted time. If the work day
is filled with sync-ups, presentations, administrative and status meetings
(all of them important), the time for doing the work of
creating deliverables is reduced. The stop and start time
required when work sessions are interrupted
by inconveniently timed meetings causes productivity to fall.
Group work sessions are meetings at
which people come together to produce a deliverable, make a decision, plan or
otherwise contribute to the project in a
concrete accomplishment oriented way. They might include
information transfers, design sessions, reviews, etc.
Minimize time spent at informational
and administrative meetings, but do not eliminate them. They are important but
need to be scheduled and managed to maximize productivity. The more you and your organization make use
of collaboration tools, the fewer of these you need. Collaboration tools enable
To make meetings meaningful and
productive, plan, schedule and execute them as you would any task. Keep
attention on the "agenda" -- the work that you have decided to do
during that session. Protect against interruptions. Depending on
your situation, turn off phones and notifications. Put tangential
issues on a parking lot list and avoid getting caught in discussions that are
off topic or at a level of detail that is not in-keeping with the meeting
Make effective use of
asynchronous and virtual meetings, recognizing that they require the right
technology and the self-discipline of participants to stay focused and
contribute. At the same time, recognize the power of face-face meetings and the
need for human moments.
In other words, take the time and effort
to plan the way you will communicate and collaborate in your projects by
holding the right meetings among the right participants given the needs of your
environment with its unique social, technological and cultural conditions.
Questions or comments? Feel free to share them below!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: George Pitagorsky, PMP, integrates core disciplines and applies mindfulness meditation and people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. George authored Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success, The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict in Projects and PM Foundation. He is a senior teacher at the NY Insight Meditation Center.