Plan an Effective Project Meeting

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On a project management forum I frequent, someone asked whether or not it was rude to use digital devices during meetings.

Some responses were flat out rejections of using digital devices. Other responses were accepting of using technology while others are speaking.    

Personally, if you are not being disruptive, I don't think it's rude to use your digital devices in a meeting. I think what's more important to note is why people are using their digital devices during the meeting.

As a new project manager, you will probably be hosting many meetings for a project.  It's up to you to stay focused even if the participants aren't captivated the entire time.

As project managers in general, we should really take a good look at why we call meetings at all.
You may think you've called everyone together to get their input. But how many people did you invite? What often happens is that a few  people talk at once, and several people are left out and unable to contribute.They will inevitably find a more useful way to spend their time.   

You may think you've called a meeting at a good time because everyone was available on the calendar at the same time -- finally. But realistically, almost everyone has something going on before and after your meeting. Your meeting isn't the only thing occupying their attention. An empty space on a calendar really isn't an empty space. 

As project managers, we need to ask ourselves what kind of meetings we are calling, what's the purpose, who must be invited and why to determine if a meeting is the absolute best way for you to impart or gather a particular type of information. The reason for calling a meeting should not be because it's the easiest way to give information or to get input.   

If you do find that you must meet, consider having several smaller meetings in small spaces that engage your core audience. Invite three to five people instead of a huge group. You can even adopt the agile practice of having 15-minute stand-up meetings to encourage groups to focus and get through agenda items quickly.  

Sitting in a room waiting to be engaged is bound to lose anyone's attention. If you keep your attendee list short, even if the meeting is long, there is more audience engagement and less individual downtime. Most importantly, there is less opportunity for someone to tune out because they feel no one is paying attention to them.

How do you engage team members during meetings, and do you care if they use digital devices?    

Read more posts from Taralyn.

Read more about project planning.

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: March 06, 2012 10:30 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Scott Cosgrove, PMP

This is certainly a different perspective on conducting a productive meeting. I know that there is more than one way to chair a meeting. As to whether the meeting is productive or not, of course, is subjective.

I have to say that you and I are 180 degrees out on this matter. If my team is engaged with their digital tools during a meeting, I would question whether I had planned an effective project meeting. But all teams work differently. The important thing is that they work, and that is in the end result.

From a personal perspective, I am offended by people who drift off into their personal devices, whether I am the PM or a team member. I believe that it is discourteous and shows a lack of discipline and commitment. I don't do it. I am disturbed by those who do.

Bob Tarne
I don't carry a pad of paper around anymore, I take notes on my iPad.

But at the same time, I've been talking in a meeting and seen people doing something on their laptops and I interpret that as them not paying attention to me.

It's a tough call. It's more than just whether or not someone has a digital device, it comes down to whether or not they seem engaged in the conversation.

Very insightful post, Taralyn. Got me thinking!

Unless they're doing something like making notes, looking up information, or doing something directly related to the meeting - then no, I don't think people should use digital devices!

I definitely agree with you about making sure the attendee list is short and sweet though.

Robert Kelly
Good post Taralyn!

Perfect world, I am running an amazing meeting and everyone is hanging on my last word. Unfortunately, technology and social trends have shifted expectations to almost instant communication.

People don't want to wait an hour for you to get out of your meeting to respond to their email. Does that make it right? Of course not. But if you don't like devices being used while in your meeting, then you must not be able to function on a web conference, virtual team environment.

"I'm sorry, can you repeat that" is translated as "Sorry, I was answering emails, writing up this other document and browsing the internet while you were talking, so please repeat".

Devices or not, if you don't have a well planned and engaging agenda, they will either drift off into a technical device or into their own mind thinking about the upcoming weekend.

An engaging agenda, time boxed, actionable steps, and appropriate attendees. Don't meet when an email will suffice. For longer working sessions (all day events) you should be the last 15 minutes of every hour for phone calls, emails, personal breaks.

If you are require a decision, are at a crucial point in the project conversation, or here a lot of "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" then by all means ask folks to turn off devices.

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