Written by Ryan Downing
Part 1 – The Weekly Status Meeting
I have spent over a decade managing projects and studying different philosophies on what the best practices for this are. During this time, I have managed many successful projects, several unsuccessful ones and obtained the Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certifications.
As I continue to study the profession and see what works and what does not, I’ve found that many project managers are trying to force rules from a textbook into every project that they manage. They are using certain techniques that are generally acceptable for many projects but should not apply to the ones they are managing – hampering their ability to successfully bring the project to a conclusion.
While the methods they are trying to apply are proven to work with other projects, they cannot be viewed as the optimal methods for every project. Each project has its own nuisances and needs to be managed differently. These are several common philosophies that I see project managers trying to force on every project when a different approach would be better.
#1 – The Weekly Status Meeting
Few things in project management seem as sacred as the weekly status meeting with the customer. For the first part of my career, my managers insisted on it and I would reliably run these meetings without fail. However, when I was assigned to a new manager, he challenged my thinking and started asking me about the real effectiveness of those meetings. As I analyzed these status updates, I realized that the meetings I was running were not a very good use of everyone’s time.
For starters, meetings in general are increasingly under scrutiny by companies trying to get more out of their employees. Attentive, a company dedicated to studying meetings to offer solutions to make them more effective, found that 63% of meetings take place without a pre-planned agenda and therefore, meeting participants feel that 33% of meeting time is unproductive.
In looking at the meetings I was running, I realized that mine were falling into this trap of not being planned out well or being effective. To correct this, I made it my goal to ensure that every meeting had an objective and agenda associated with it.
Interestingly enough though, as I tried coming up with an objective and agenda for the weekly status meetings, I found that for the most part, I could not come up with anything that would justify pulling multiple people away from their jobs. The content of the status meetings was typically updates on open items and project milestones.
By typing those statuses up to prepare the agenda, I realized that by sending that status update, I would have fulfilled the objective of the meeting. That is when I switched gears and stopped holding weekly status meetings but rather sent out status updates. This fulfilled the objective of keeping all the stakeholders aware of where the project was at without needing to take up more of their time on a meeting.
Initially, a few of my customers balked at the idea of not having a weekly status meeting. They too had it engrained in their thinking that the only way to manage a project was to meet weekly. But after several weeks of getting the email with project status updates, they agreed that it was a much better way to manage the project.
If you feel like you are spending too much time meeting with the stakeholders on projects you manage, I would encourage you to build a status report template that gives all the pertinent information in it (which you would have to gather anyway to prepare for a status meeting) and send that to the stakeholders in lieu of the status meeting.