Want to see the hours used for your project explode when compared to the budgeted hours?
Then be indiscriminate on when, and how you hold meetings and who you invite. 

Someone says, “Let’s have a meeting”. Your blood pressure goes up a little, your energy level sinks, your concerns elevate your project budget, the first thought is, “Why?” Project Management and Program Management do not happen in a vacuum or in one person’s mind. Everyone brings value to the team the modern mantra being to include everybody. 

The team needs to convene on occasion to share. Sharing could be status, brainstorm strategies, and tactics, issues, opinions, and/or unhappiness. The value-added is the team members hear it at one-time and can, if they chose, respond with help. In the case of status, the team can hear and applaud progress, or provide support to improve progress.

We would guess everyone hates meetings, or more specifically the time spent in meetings. Meetings are important and needed, but not for everything, and perhaps not the entire team.  


Table of content:

1. What are Meetings

2. Why are Meetings Important

3. Properly Planned Meetings

4. Costs of Meetings

5. Meeting Size

6. Know when and what to Defer

7. Team Building 

8. Impact of Missing Meetings 

9. Conclusion 

What are Meetings

A couple of definitions for Meeting:

“An assembly of people, especially the members of a society or committee, for discussion or entertainment“1

“a planned occasion when people come together, either in person or online (= using the internet), to discuss something2

More appropriate for our purposes:

“a business meeting is a gathering of two or more people to discuss ideas, goals and objectives that concern the workplace”3

Why are Meetings Important

Establishes Alignment – e.g., Project Kick-off Meeting

Facilitates Discussion of Ideas – e.g., Project Assumptions/Emergent Issues/Risks Meeting

Promotes Inclusion and Builds Trust – e.g., Project Design Review Meeting

Faster and Inclusive Decisions – e.g., Project WBS Meetings

Strategy and Tactics – e.g., brainstorming with the team

Properly Planned Meetings

From experience, we conduct meetings in ways that contribute to the dissatisfaction and waste.  Make no mistake, meetings have a poor reputation, and much of that is self-inflicted.  We will review some of the downsides of poorly conducted meetings.  Properly planned meetings serve everyone. The meeting organizer or chair should do the following:

  1. Create an agenda with time limits
  2. Make sure only the appropriate people are invited. The right people are:
    1. Familiar with the subject
    2. Need status
    3. Can add value
    4. Have authority to make decisions
    5. Can implement the actions/decisions
    6. Have experience with the subject
  3. Meeting should be as well defined as the scope and objectives of the project and meeting

Costs of Meetings

Monetary

 Some organizations use billing rates, impact to project cost, and benefits/burdens for the organization. With every cost added, the cost per hour per person goes up. Is there value add for the cost.  For example, the total cost for an employee includes:

  • electricity, water, and office space
  • health insurance
  • security
  • IT

So, do you think you know the true costs of meetings? Have you ever thought about the costs?  Let’s do a mental exercise.  To make this easy, use $100 per hour for the full burden rate.  Also consider 15 team members on this project.

Also consider that while people are in meetings, they are not working on project commitments, the costs look more like:

A colleague regaled us of a recent event, where nearly 50 people were invited to a 2 (16 hours) day off site meeting. Off site because there were no conference rooms that would handle that number of participants. 

Think about that cost for a moment. The consider that many other meetings are happening at the same time and you can see the monetary and productivity impact on the business.

Opportunity Costs and Morale

A story might be a good demonstration, albeit anecdotal, of the impact of meetings.  A company has a mandatory meeting every few weeks with the focus of improving the organization. This represents more than 2 hours of meeting time per month, and external time working on the deliverables assigned to them during the meeting. 

At the same time, there is a team made up of exempt employees, working many hours of over time every week, with a 50 to 60 hours per week effort. 

The project manager announced this team will not be able to participate in this mandatory meeting, noting this additional meeting is an undue burden on a team that is already working many hours. 

Either the company objective is important necessitating these overtime hours, or it does not and the date of introduction of the product should be delayed or more team members added, and the hours over 40 can be eliminated.  Imagine working uncompensated hours of overtime, and then receiving a demand for more hours, or a distraction from the organization’s objective.

Meeting Size

Let’s revisit our earlier note of the cost of meetings when that meeting includes 50 or more people.  Think about how this meeting will be effective, or perhaps more specifically, how in the world could this possibly be effective.  Announcements are not meetings, they do inform though and these are important, but should not to be confused with meetings.

Know when and what to Defer

When you set up the meeting agenda, you likely have some idea of how long it will take to resolve.  Sometimes that estimate is poor.  When you see the agenda item is not likely to be solved within this meeting, note what we know now, and the people that need to be included to resolve and move to the next agenda item.

Team Building

Sometimes in our fast-paced work world, we may end up treating many of our exchanges rather antiseptically.  Meetings are not time for socializing for sure, but there is a boundary in how we conduct them which can create a personable environment.  For example, make sure there is time at the closure of the meeting to ask the perspective of the team members if they have concerns or other items they want to add or clarify.

Impact of Missing Meetings

Of course, there are reasons for meetings. Have you ever felt left out of the loop? Feel like you’re not informed on what is going on? This is one of the casualties of missing a meeting. If the meeting organizer (often the project manager) has done their planning correctly, you should be there.

Our colleague Jason says meeting team members should be well defined just like the scope and objectives of the meeting.  Jason is correct.  A significant onus is on the meeting organizer. 

2“If invited and you choose not to attend, Project Manager is not required to meet separately to discuss; Except if illness prevents your attendance.”

Conclusion

As a meeting organizer, make sure a meeting is required.  Engage the entire team.  If you have insufficient time for productive exchanges with the team members, then you likely have too many team members invited or too broad a scope of the meeting. Some things can are better explored or prepared via email, but remember email is not communicating.  Prepare an agenda with time constraints. Select invitees carefully. Stick to the agenda and time.  If you are invited to a meeting feel that your input is requested and that the meeting will be of value to you and the objective of the team.