Project Management

Intensive Care for Critical Decision-Making Meetings

Joe Wynne is a versatile Project Manager experienced in delivering medium-scope projects in large organizations that improve workforce performance and business processes. He has a proven track record of delivering effective, technology-savvy solutions in a variety of industries and a unique combination of strengths in both process management and workforce management.

How many times have you needed a group decision to be made in order to remain on schedule, only to be frustrated as something went wrong when the stakeholders were assembled to make the decision?  Maybe a key person was not there.  Maybe an issue came up that derailed the process.  Maybe someone needed more information at the last minute prior to voting.  This can be embarrassing and detrimental to your project and career.

Take your cue from hospital staff.  When they have a critical patient, that patient is placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  In the ICU, they monitor the patients much more closely and take additional preventive measures. You should do the same with critical decision-making meetings to avoid a horrible fate for your patient--um, project.

Critical Decision-Making Meetings Defined 
Critical decision-making meetings are those meetings that have as their output decisions, votes or agreements that are necessary to maintain project progress on schedule.  Common types of critical decision meetings involve

  • getting customer sign-off on a deliverable  
  • approving a new process  
  • approving a major change in a process  
  • getting requirements documentation approved  
  • quality assurance evaluation at an intermediate project point

For these critical meetings, you must follow an intensive treatment regimen or you may be facing a Code Blue situation.

Intensive Care Steps  

Schedule meeting
Contact all expected participants to get availability times.  Obtain two or three good meeting times from each participant for the meeting duration you anticipate.  If you have a culture where participants miss meetings often and without much notice, get agreement on an alternate meeting date.  Reserve the correct type of meeting room - with a round table or one where everyone can see each other.


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Announce meeting
Send out a preliminary announcement of date and times.  You can even include a draft agenda for comments.  Explain that a pre-meeting package will be sent to all participants.  This is expected to be read to minimize the duration of the meeting.

Analyze participants
List all participants.  Decide which ones are critical to the decision.  These are the CPs--Critical Participants.  Critical participants may be sponsors, stakeholders, department leaders, anyone who must be there for the decision to be valid.   If they are not available, then the meeting cannot proceed with any finality.  For every CP, list what information they need to make the decision.  Also note their meeting style.  Are they aggressive, passive, talkative, confrontational, collaborative, secretive, awkward, polite?  This information will help you prepare so you will get the decision during the meeting.  

Send out meeting preparation package
This is your big preventive treatment strategy.  You want to brief everyone completely prior to meeting – at least 10 days ahead.  Avoid wasting time with activities that do not require everyone to be present.  Also, try to eliminate any reason for a CP to avoid making the decision.  Here is a checklist for the possible contents of a pre-meeting package.

  • Clarify decisions to be made  
  • Provide facts needed by participants, summary, items that are exceptions, operational data, background information, exceptions  
  • Background/context (process, history)  
  • Relate decisions to project success  
  • Provide support reading, based on participant needs as defined in the participant analysis.  Describe what the reading adds to the preparation, so that those who do not need to read it will not read it by accident then want to  put you in the emergency room.  
  • Provide detailed agenda  
  • List meeting rules  
  • List participants 

Sure this meeting preparation package may take some time to produce, but the benefits to the patient are worth it.  This treatment regimen inoculates your meeting from a host of ills.

Make pre-meeting contacts
Now is the time to "check the charts" so there won't be any surprise symptoms during the meeting.  Check CP availability again.  When it's closer to the meeting date, they will have a better grip on their schedule.  Ask if they agree with the agenda.  Find out if they have problems or issues that can run the meeting off course.  Discuss these issues before the meeting.   Determine if there is any additional info that they need or if they have read the meeting prep package. Make sure there are no surprises, so that you will be in control.

Follow Your Agenda
Participants will know you mean business when you stick to the agenda.

Follow Up Correctly
Thank participants for their assistance, connecting it to the organizational benefits of the decision.  In case all decisions cannot be reached, create an action list in the format of  “Who Does What by When.”  Apprise participants of the consequences of not completing action items as described.

The busier workplace means that planning critical decision-making meetings is more important than ever. Get timely agreements and respect from co-workers by treating this type of meeting aggressively, like an intensive care patient, and avoiding a meeting that is dead on arrival.

gantthead Premium Members can download the Critical Descion-Making Meeting Planner here.

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