Simple ways to make your project meetings more effective

People usually fall into two categories - those who enjoy project meetings and those who hate them. Both sets of people are right. The opportunity to get together with the rest of the project team is one of the most valuable events that you can schedule, but they have the potential for wasting huge amounts of time and money if they aren't managed correctly.

You will know how to adapt for your particular situation but we have a few principles for running a productive project meeting.

Have the right person as chair
It sounds so obvious but all too often the most senior person in the group takes the chair rather than the right person. Clients are rarely the right person as they usually have issues driving them from outside the project rather than the day to day issues of the matter in hand. Choose carefully so that the chairperson has an overview on all aspects and can draw the group together and move them forward while avoiding getting bogged down with minutiae.

Think about your agenda
Any good agenda will have three key sections.

Section 1 - The basic information about the meeting.
Who should be there, where it is and the start and finish time. You can also put the date of the next meeting here.

Section 2 - What is being discussed.
By all means have a couple of regular items such as minutes from the previous meeting but remain focused on progress rather then past content or a rigid 'system'. If there is a major topic for discussion don't be afraid to put it down as a specific item and ensure that the group know that they should forward items for inclusion rather than waiting for the dreaded AOB. Consider which items are time critical and which require input from outside the meeting.

Section 3 - A schedule of attendees contact information and the future meetings.
Always set meetings dates as far in advance as possible, at least four weeks into the future. This should avoid those protracted discussions where everyone is looking at their diaries to try to find a day that works. A regular day, say every second Thursday at 10:00am, will allow the attendees to schedule the rest of their time. Including a contact schedule with minutes is just good old fashioned practice that will save plenty of time and excuses.

Accept that some people won't be able to make every single meeting and ensure that each person has a 'second' who can stand in for them. The project should remain the focus, not the individuals delivering it. If your project meeting demands detailed information then include it in sequence, not as an appendix.

Start and end on time
9:00am means 9:00am so if you need tea and bacon sandwiches beforehand then feel free to have refreshments as the 9:00am agenda item. It might find it useful for some attendees to have a meeting beforehand with people such as suppliers or subcontractors so you can gave the latest information to hand. You might also want to bring one of them into your project meeting if there is a key issue that concerns them.

End times are equally important. Most meetings can be dispatched in an hour but you will get a feel for how long you really need if the chair is adept at keeping it moving along.

Resolve each item
Before moving onto the next item make sure that each item has an action point, even if it is 'no action' or 'held over to next meeting'. Don't be afraid to reschedule items for a later date if it is not time critical.

Distribute minutes within twenty four hours
That sounds like an impossible challenge but trust us on this one. How often have you distributed minutes the day before the next meeting? Late minutes are no good to anyone except in court.

Minutes aren't a record for posterity, they a live working document that shows the decisions, actions and responsibilities held by the group. Unless they are with the people that are carrying out those actions they will not be focused or collaborative. Failure to get those minutes out will often mean that the next meeting is full of excuses, blame and panic about the delays that are stacking up.

All minutes will have an item number, the item itself, the required output or action and the person who is actually going to be responsible, not an organisation. Include a draft agenda for the next meeting with a request for any items for inclusion by a specific date.

One final point that is worth remembering; all too often meetings are where minutes are kept and hours are lost. It doesn't have to be that way.