Project Status Meetings

It’s a Love/Hate thing.

We hate going to the project status meetings, but my how we get upset if we can’t go to one.  How many times have you asked someone how a particular aspect of your project is going and the response is “Well, we had a meeting.”  I once read that a meeting is no substitute for progress.  How true.

PRINCE2 does not support regular project status meetings.  It uses the Principle of Management by Exception instead.  Regular team/project status meetings, regular Project Board/Steering Committee meetings – NO MORE!”  When my PRINCE2 instructor said this, my first thought was “Good luck with that in our meeting obsessed culture.”

 


Most dislike the idea of going to a meeting because the clear majority of meetings don’t really accomplish anything concrete.  People sit around the table discussing without making with any decisions or concrete actions to accomplish once the meeting is over.

Many times, our “weekly” team/project status meetings are used for an around the room marathon answering the question “What did you do this week?”  The project manager is usually scrambling to write things down and at any given time half of the people in attendance are not paying attention.  Rarely are serious problems or issues raised in the discussion as people don’t like to admit in public that they are having difficulties or ask for help.

I have heard project managers say “I have to hold the meeting or else I won’t know what is going on in the project.  Team managers/members don’t want to fill out any sort of report showing their progress because it takes away from their work.”  The reality is, if it takes a team manager/member more than 10-15 minutes per week to complete their status report (Checkpoint Report in PRINCE2 terminology) then the report is too complicated.  Also, the meeting itself is likely to take more than the same 15 minutes.

When a team member/manager writes their own checkpoint report, they take ownership of the information.  It provides a trail of information for lessons to be learned in the future.  If a team manage/member is having difficulty, a discussion can be held in a private setting. Also, the checkpoint reports should not contain any surprises.  Issues should be raised on an as needed basis.

There is a book I reference many times when teaching project management courses called Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It by Ferdinand F. Fournies.  In it, he says that often people are rewarded for NOT doing what they are supposed to do.  When you (PM) hold a meeting to discuss status and you (PM) take the minutes, you are in fact rewarding the team for NOT preparing their own checkpoint/status reports.

I will fully acknowledge that there is value in face time for larger teams and for geographically dispersed teams. These meetings serve the purpose of team building.  These meetings should be to discuss common success and common issues and this perform problem solving conversations.

If you absolutely must have a weekly team meeting, all I ask is that you remove the status part of it, keep it to under 30 minutes, and be sure to have clearly defined outcomes and follow on actions for each meeting.

As PRINCE2 originated in the UK you might take another tip from that country: The Queen takes her Privy Council meetings standing up!