25

I'm the lead programmer turned project manager in a small shop. Our project has entered "the last 90%" phase where many things need to be communicated between different departments. This means many more meetings than during the initial development phase. Most of these spring up as impromptu meetings whenever the CEO feels the need to communicate something, which is usually when I'm trying to concentrate on something entirely different and am least prepared for them. These meetings are less effective than they could be and they eat into my productivity.

What's a good rule of thumb to schedule meetings? Is it better to stick to rigidly scheduled meetings every day or week, even when there's nothing to say, or should meetings be scheduled with an advance notice whenever there is something to say? How do you suppress non-time-critical impromptu meetings, especially when they come from above?

  • 3
    How often are you pro-actively going to your CEO with status updates? – JBRWilkinson Feb 18 '11 at 10:45
  • Just don't schedule them. Meetings are evil practice and must be avoided as much as possible, see Meetings Are Legalized Robbery – yegor256 Jul 14 '15 at 23:02

12 Answers 12

11

Good meeting only comes with practice. My preference is to have standing meetings, and once you are in that last mile, increase the frequency but keep them consistent, so that you can be productive around the meetings. If your CEO is requesting the meeting, is either because:

  • the PM (you in this case) are not meeting his expectation in something
  • the CEO has not expressed very clear goals to you, so he is anxious about the deployment

Also, scheduled meetings don't have to last long, if you all come in, and you go around the table and no one have updates, just cut it short.

  • 1
    You absolutely have a point in these spontaneous meetings occurring due to unanswered questions. I suppose the best method to completely avoid problematic meetings is to forestall their necessity by better overall communication. The question now is whether to do this through meetings or other means... :) – deceze Feb 17 '11 at 4:09
  • 2
    +1 for cutting it short. A quick, 15 minute around the room update is sometimes sufficient to keep everyone in the loop. – jmort253 Feb 17 '11 at 5:40
8

Meetings should be scheduled as needed and not more. Communicating to a wider audience likely doesn’t require a meeting. Maybe your CEO wants reassurances that you'll make the last project mile. Now that you’re in the last 10%, you might create some type of a countdown chart or clock that could visibly reassure everyone while not consuming project resources in meetings.

8

The guys at 37signals say meetings are toxic, and I agree. They have some rules for meetings that I've worked into my style:

  • Set a timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.
  • Invite as few people as possible.
  • Always have a clear agenda.
  • Begin with a specific problem.
  • Meet at the site of the problem instead of a conference room. Point to real things and suggest real changes.
  • End with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.

If you find it necessary to improve communication, perhaps to avoid status/micromanagement meetings, try the One Page Project Manager.

  • 5
    The guys at 37 Signals are also a little arrogant, but they do have some good advice. Just take it with a grain of salt. What worked for them might not work for everyone. – jmort253 Feb 17 '11 at 5:42
  • @jmort253: Agreed. In our business, meeting rooms are the calmest places in the building (they have fish tanks) and so meetings are quite productive. – JBRWilkinson Feb 18 '11 at 10:40
3

Schedule meetings in the mornings. After lunch - no meetings. Reject them from your calendar, and put a DND sign on your cube/door, and disappear from IM & email. Talk to the Boss & any relevant others to let them know the new plan; ask for their help in making this work for you. After you've had their theoretical buy-in, it will be easier to make them feel like an ass when they break with plan (only take one earbud out when they start to talk to you.)

Good luck.

  • I think this is a good idea as long as you balance your "Do Not Disturb" times with "I'm available for impromptu meetings" times. – jmort253 Mar 27 '11 at 23:52
3

At the current place, we allocate standard meeting times and cancel them when no one has anything to report. This is a method for blocking off time.

The most effective client I worked with had lots of regularly scheduled meeting and sending an agenda was one of their business requirements. Anyone lackadaisical enough to send out meeting invites without an agenda would have their meeting invites canceled.

Is it better to stick to rigidly scheduled meetings every day or week, even when there's nothing to say

Generally, I find this to be the better option. Schedule them and ruthlessly cancel them when they aren't needed.

should meetings be scheduled with an advance notice whenever there is something to say?

Yes, and try to push for agendas ahead of time. I find that it is much harder to get sandbagged if you know what is likely to be discussed.

How to suppress non-time-critical impromptu meetings, especially when they come from above?

One method is to block off time in advance. Another is to use "I don't know" as a mantra. Getting prepared for meetings is quite time consuming, but if I don't, it looks like I'm an idiot from all the "I don't know, let me get back to you on that" going on.

2

Let's get off the meetings are evil bandwagon. Bad meetings are evil. But good meetings are useful.

Schedule meetings for when you need them, invite only the people you need, provide an agenda up front and stick to it in the meeting.

For people who can't attend, make sure you cover off the gap in their knowledge. I prefer to send out the meeting notes (written on the original agenda) rather than sending them separate information.

If you run useful meetings, people will want to come.

2

Schedule them as long as necessary. There is nothing wrong with scheduling a meeting for only 15 minutes.

Schedule them after one another, for example after the weekly project meeting. That avoids a second interruption.

2

Meeting is a decision tool. I mean you should do a meeting when a decision needs to be made, with the people having the infos and/or responsibilities to make them. In every other case, another communication tool, like an email, can replace it, which will save a lot of time for the team.

  • Meetings aren't only held to make decisions. Some are for disseminating information, especially if clarifying question are likely or if the info would be inappropriate via another medium such as email; others are for gathering status. – Adam Wuerl Mar 27 '11 at 22:39
1

One suggestion I got from a book by Scot Adams (author of Dilbert) was to schedule meetings at a time where people are not in their most productive zone. If you have a team of people that prefer to concentrate and crank out work in the mornings, don't schedule meetings in the mornings. Some people have different days of the week as ultra-productive days. With a small team, you might be able to find a perfect time for routine meetings.

If you have a mix of people types, pick a time right before lunch on a Tuesday or Thursday - minimum interference.

0

Meetings are evil. If you need a meeting - it's a sign of bad management.

If you need to distribute/collect information - use emails, reports, social networks, information systems, whatever. If you need team building - try bowling instead. If you need help to make a decision - during a meeting you will inevitably listen to those who speaks louder, use face-to-face discussions instead.

Brainstormings is an exception, but they should happen quite rarely.

  • How is a face to face discussion different from a meeting? – jmort253 Mar 27 '11 at 23:54
  • A face-to-face discussion has just two "faces", while meetings have many "faces" :) – yegor256 Mar 28 '11 at 6:44
0

Using a tool like http://www.agreedo.com can help you to get your meeting minutes right and to track the results. Tracking the results of a meeting is crucial to leverage

0

Any meeting going above and beyond 15 minutes is not worth it. Long meeting results in one or two members of the team contributing actively and others in the meeting feeling prisoners because of the fact that they are not able to contribute.

If meeting are scheduled, then the chances of finishing it within the expected time is more. In case of non critical impromptu meetings, start the meeting with a time limit (ex : 10 mins). Make everyone in the meeting aware that they have 10 mins to discuss on the topic. This will cut the chase and topic discussed in the meeting are more effective.

Decide the next steps during the end of the meeting so that the person who has called for the meeting know what everyone thinks. If there is no outcome from the meeting, do the least thing possible, schedule a meeting to start where you had stopped earlier or start a e-mail thread discussing the same including all the members in the meeting.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.