Project Management

How to Avoid Another Project Meeting That Could’ve Been an Email

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By Emily Luijbregts

Is a full calendar a sign of an effective leader? Does having lots of meetings make you a better project manager?

I’d answer “no” to both of those questions. For several years, I rushed through days where I’ve barely had time to think as I went from one back-to-back meeting to the next. I missed lunch more times than I dare to count and often took work home with me to complete. Then a colleague challenged me: What if we could reduce all of our project meetings by 50 percent for one month? Would it work? In my case, it was such a success, I was determined to never go back to so many meetings again!

Let me start by addressing one of the biggest concerns I hear from project managers when I suggest this: Losing control. Yes, that may happen. But you need to trust your team and trust that if there are any issues, that these will be brought to your attention. Also, I’m not advocating for the cancellation of all meetings. Rather, this is about removing the unnecessary ones.

When I am brought in to take over projects, I now analyze what meetings are in place, what meetings are needed and if meetings should be repurposed for a different use. Here’s how to do it:

How to Reduce the Number of Meetings

For every meeting that you currently have scheduled in your calendar, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s the point of this meeting?
    1. Are the objectives of the meeting clear?
    2. Does every participant understand what is expected of them during this meeting?
  2. Are the right people in this meeting?
    1. It’s easy to include every team member in a meeting, but is it really necessary?
  3. Are we addressing what the project needs right now?
    1. During the life cycle of your project, there will be times when more meetings are needed (e.g., during execution). Don’t automatically schedule unnecessary meetings just because you may need them in the future.
    2. If you have recurring meetings, assess throughout the project if they are still needed.
  4. How long is the meeting?
    1. I follow a few standard rules for my projects:
      1. Daily stand-ups are 15 minutes maximum
      2. Status meetings last no more than 40 minutes
      3. Steering committees last no more than one hour

I also try to give people time before and after my meeting for preparation, travel and using the bathroom. So, for example, I might schedule a meeting 9:00-9:40 or 9:15-9:30.

When you start cancelling meetings, you may feel a loss of control or fear that you won’t have all of the information you need as a project manager. However, I would argue that if you use your meeting time effectively, you can still gain all of the information that you need—and not waste your teams’ time in the process.

How to Improve Your Meetings

The next step on our reduction journey is to evaluate how you lead and conduct meetings. If you need some tips, don’t hesitate to ask your colleagues or peers about what works for them. One piece of advice I was given that has always helped me is: “Control the meeting, not the conversation.” It’s important to make sure that every meeting is as effective as possible, so that the right information is shared with the right team members.

At the moment, we are going through an unprecedented period in history, and work has taken on a more virtual role. Learning how to lead effective virtual meetings is difficult! It’s not the same as managing onsite teams, and it does require an additional set of skills. Luckily, there are some great resources available that can help you enhance and improve your skills.

You may also find that during this time, more meetings suddenly appear on your calendar, as people want to catch up or hold a virtual chat. This is not necessarily a bad thing! It’s important to keep up your social contact with your colleagues. But be efficient with your time: If it’s an informal meeting, can you do it while you take your walk after lunch? If it’s a catch up, can you schedule it for a quieter period of your day?

I encourage you to take up the challenge and look at what meetings you can eliminate in your schedule. Let’s take back control of our day and give ourselves more time to actually work!

What are your favorite tips for avoiding unnecessary meetings?

Posted by Emily Luijbregts on: May 11, 2020 02:28 PM | Permalink

Comments (17)

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Based on my experience, meetings generate action items, most of which are unnecessary. However, once noted in the minutes or action item log, someone is assigned to provide a response to it. This means busy work which is unnecessary , takes time and can be costly.
Hold less meetings is the point.

Thanks for sharing., very interesting.

@john: do you think you could get these actions another way? Or a more effective way to hold meetings?

@eduin: thank you!

And of course, the other thing to consider is the frequency of meetings. Many meetings are conducted Weekly or Monthly "because that's how its always been". Consider fortnightly etc.

meeting is one of very important part of project which need to be managed judicially throughout the project life cycle. Your suggestions in this regard is really helpful. Thanks a lot Emily !!

I wholeheartedly agree with this article! To reduce meetings, I've combined smaller topics during a week into one meeting to be considerate of others' time and create more value, especially when the majority of participants are the same. We may add a couple more attendees but we'll cover their topic first and then allow them to drop from the call or leave the conference room, to carry on with the remaining topics.

I recommend to do status updates only in 1:1 meetings. This saves a lot of time in team meetings

Emily,
This is a very helpful article to remind us to be effective meeting and time managers. I appreciate the links for the tips and resources to share with my team.

Interesting observation from my perspective during our "working from home" here in Australia. I am actually booking somewhat more meetings!

But that is because I'm having to replace ad-hoc desk/hallway meetings with scheduled meetings. In the office I can see when people are around and can use instant messaging/chat to grab a few people to discuss an issue over a coffee or around a desk. This doesn't work so well remotely (an ad-hoc call/MS Teams meeting is often declined).

But,

a. we're not generating minutes and actions (as noted by John
this can be add unnecessary overhead)
b. we're keeping them short!

Thank you for sharing Emily, it is very useful.

Emily, good one! Fully agreed with you.
Sometimes it's hard to engage the peers and/or team members to include an agenda and keep focus on the point. However is very rewarding when we share our time management knowledge and meeting improvement tips with them and they use it!

I always try to finish my meetings 5 min early to allow the people arrive on time to their next one.

Having an agenda for the meeting is very important. Its useful if attendees know about the topic and come prepared for the discussion that is about to take place. In the meetings that I have attended I have seen that this is missing!

Emily, U geeft zoals gewoonlijk uitstekend inzicht en advies.

Jim Stewart and I have written about this. Maybe we should have a meeting? Just kidding - the comment does the job. Clearly we're thinking along the same lines.

There is much literature about meetings and how to be efficient. But some of the golden rules for me are so simple as 1.-to have an agenda, 2.-to invite the relevant people and 3.-to allow participation and to encourage to solve the problem or at least to show the way to solve it.
Least but not last, send a MOM of the meeting, with clear "action points, with date and responsible", if not everybody will forget it.

All very valid points, Emily.

I tend to reject meetings that do not provide an agenda beforehand, or at the bare minimum two or three lines about its purpose and goal.

“Control the meeting, not the conversation.”

Excellent distinction.

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