Project Management

How to Avoid Useless Meetings

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By Christian Bisson, PMP

Whether for workshops, stakeholder interviews, a requirements gathering session or some other activity, sometimes you have to plan a full day of meetings (or multiple days). These meetings might be with various people throughout the day or with the same stakeholders throughout. Regardless, it’s important to plan them appropriately to get the most out of everyone’s time.

Here are a few steps to ensure meeting attendees don’t head out of the office feeling like they wasted a day.

1) Have a detailed agenda

Although this applies to every meeting, it’s especially important when planning a whole day (or days). This means breaking the days into the different relevant sessions, specifying who will attend and when, and detailing the purpose of each session.

2) Plan enough time

Just like with a project schedule, if the duration only looks good on paper, you will regret it later. Make sure to have enough time for each session. Don’t think “we’ll have to make it fit”—it most likely will not. Then you’ll have to cut short a session at the last minute to accommodate.

3) Don’t skimp on breaks

If you don’t include time for any breaks, thinking this will allow more to get done, you‘ll be wrong. People will likely take breaks anyway because they are tired, thirsty or need to go to the bathroom. If they don’t take breaks, attendees will be severely tired or uncomfortable. As the day progresses, sessions will become less and less efficient. Plan either five minutes of break per hour or 10 minutes per two hours.

4) Plan a meet-and-greet or introduction

Always plan 15 minutes at the beginning of the day for various ad hoc elements, including: people presenting themselves, introducing the day’s agenda or a session starting a few minutes late. If everyone is on time, and everyone knows each other, you might need just five minutes.

5) Limit the number of attendees

The more attendees in a meeting, the more chance the agenda goes off track. Obviously it’s important to try to avoid this, but if 20 people are attending the meeting, that can be a seriously tall order. Short of being very strict (which you might not want to be with a client), the meeting will most run over its allotted time.

So scheduler beware: some, if not most, meetings with too many attendees will bring no added value and will be wasting people’s time (and money!). Ideally, a meeting should be limited to about six people.

Have any more tips to share?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: May 17, 2016 08:07 PM | Permalink

Comments (18)

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I agree, It is always best to have meeting ground rules ... The meeting will be more fruitful.

Network:4642
Great guidelines. I will add Meeting Minutes at the end.

I agree, and before the start of the meeting, it should communicate these premises to participants.

Great steps. I also like to ensure that everyone understands the meeting objectives and what the expected outcomes are at the start of the meeting.

Good stuffs. I agree with point 1 and 5. One of the issues with agenda, however, is that people tend to speak ideas suddenly pop up that seems to be related to a current discussion but actually part of other agenda. People also have tendency to talk beyond the given topic. I have had meetings with 40 or more people and it is not so much effective.

I think another point is to ensure that the meeting is moderated properly as to stick with the agenda. Also, agreeing on meeting objective(s) may limit the discussion to achieve the objective and leave other non relevant topics for another discussion.

I like to send out the agenda with the meeting invitations. That way everyone knows what to expect from their attendance and can prepare any questions in advance.

Thank you everyone for your comments.

David, I agree, sending the agenda prior is always a good idea to prepare attendees. Also, if time permits, you can ask that people share if they have any more items to add to the agenda.

Benyamin, fair point, there must always be room for flexibility, and it is indeed a challenge when a topic last longer than planned but the discussion still is very relevant. In these cases the meeting could be extended if attendees are available, or a follow-up meeting could be planned to either finish that one topic that lasts longer, or to go through topics that have been put aside.

Cheers.

Planning is key. I also think that time keeping is important. There have been many meetings I have attended that have overrun because the facilitator has failed to keep attendees on point and relevant.

Great points here. Planning is crucial. I recommend adding that attendees be asked to leave their laptops and cell phones outside the meeting.

Great point Jason, any distractions should be left outside a meeting.

Very nice article.
I have taken the 'Facilitation Skills for Project Managers' webinar last week and this article complements it very well.

Thanks Daniella, I'm curious to listen to that webinar, would you mind sending the link?

Don't forget the summary before closing, with decisions made and actions that need to be taken (and by whom).

I'd like to add, at the very beginning, to setup/refresh the groud rules that all the attendees have to RESPECT during the meeting

Very good article!
I agree, sending the agenda prior is the key, to have an focused and succesfull meeting

Nice article, fix the ground rules are key to a have a great meeting.

Thank you for your comment Maria.

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