Another Project Management Communication War Story

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I just had to post something that happened to me today that fits exactly into our topic at the upcoming PMI North America Congress Session.  We had a review today on a set of customer communications that will occur in series.  Today's review was different than what was agreed upon last week.  It almost gave the feel like folks went off for the weekend and forgot after some heavy tailgating.  LOL   Ever have that happen to you?  

A little More Detail:  The inital plan would 1) issue a welcome email, 2) send customers a return equipment email, 3) send them a second equipment return email, and then 4) send them a final equipment return email.  Last week, we agreed to consolidate it down to two communications instead of four.  Today, we were talking about four again.  Sounds like Groundhog Day, right??  

This is not a chastisement of anyone in particular.  This happens all the time to very good, smart people.  In this case, the team was able to refer back to semi-official notes and memory to get folks aligned again.  

What happened to your project(s) recently that you can share with all??? 

Posted by Marcos Arias on: September 29, 2014 01:28 PM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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You are NOT unique!

I typically have between three and six masters-level interns working with me. When they first start they attend lots of meetings to get the feel for the organization, our leadership, our strategic goals, etc.

After about two weeks I always ask new interns the same question: "What do you think about the meetings you have intended?" I intentionally leave it open ended and vague, but I get the same response nearly 100% of the time.

Somewhere in their response they will always say, "The meetings are not run like we were taught in school to run meetings, based on best practices. [Duh!] And it seems like most of the time in meetings is spent revisiting decisions that appear to have already been decided."

So, Marcos, it sounds like your organization is normal, and we all need to work harder to become abnormal.

One way I have found that helps is to list key decisions made at the last meeting in the minutes as a separate section, and then to open new meetings with the decisions made in the last meeting. Not to rehash them, but to reinforce them.

I believe wars like this are won with victories in small battles, one meeting at a time.

You are dead on right. That is exactly what we got the project manager to do after today's session. Like you said, we need to be abnormal and do it right. Let's use the tools we have at our disposal.

Yes, Marcos - abnormal is normal ! Unfortunately I have found that sometimes people renege on what they agreed to (and many times this is after they reviewed the agreement with their boss) and it does cause the issue to become reopened. :(

As a pro-active measure, I agree with Dan that Key Decisions being documented in the meeting minutes is a great way to keep on track. I have also found some success by keeping a decision log in the "project center" sharepoint site.

Dave, my good friend! How good to hear from you!

We did a very similar thing on a recent two-year project that included over 150 full time staff and over 200 contractors and temporary full time staff. We were losing track of decisions and so we created what we called a Decision Vault.

Once a decision was entered into the vault it could only be re-opened under dire circumstances (patient safety, major financial impact, impact to resources, etc.). It was not a perfect system, but it did improve the tracking and stability of decisions we made.

We do understand that business objectives change, leadership changes, and sometimes project goals even change -- I do not mind revisiting those decisions. I just don't like rehashing a decision because a minority did not agree with it, or, failed to attend the meeting where it was discussed (even though they were invited).


Last week I was presenting to a Senior Leadership team of a premier institute. I had similar questions that their projects are run like a "groundhog day". My suggestion - Just look into your project objectives. If that is good look into your Organizational Strategy. If both are good then it could be an issue with the Business Drivers. If all these elements aligned then you don't change decisions often.

Marcos, what you described happens more than most of us would care to admit. Thank goodness for good project documentation to keep us all on track!

" thanks for sharing. "

I agree with the general sense that thorough meeting minutes, which identify decisions is a good place to start, and that a key-decisions matrix is a really good idea for larger more complex projects.

My last manager told our team that he expected all of us to take minutes at every meeting we attend. He provided a template for our use, which I've liked to (below).

Meeting Minutes Template - Click Here!

I didn't appreciate this at first, but I've grown to like it. Taking my own minutes during meetings keep me more engaged and has me better remember important and minor decisions reached. I recently read an article about how Richard Branson takes minutes at every meeting he attends, and he does so for these exact reasons.

Aside from that, taking good minutes is important. I use this template, which has a column for assigned action. Here I write the name of the person accountable for the action and the due date.

Typically at the end of a meeting, I take a few minutes to review the notes I took and get everyones' approval or corrections. This regularly results in correction of misunderstandings and doesn't take very long.

Then by COB on the day of the meeting, or no later than lunch the next business day, I save the minutes as a PDF and email them to everyone on the list. This makes it clear who is responsible for what and by when. Also, if we have a disagreement about previous decisions, they are easy to reference.

Another note, don't remove the attendees and contact info column. It facilitates communication among the team, especially with outside vendors.

Meeting Minutes Template - Click Here!

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