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Episode 255: How To Have Better Project Meetings (Free)

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This episode is sponsored by The PM PrepCast for The PMP Exam:
The PM PrepCast for the PMP Exam

Jeffrey SteinkeNote: In the opening I say "Welcome to episode 246". Don't worry... it's 255 and I simply mis-spoke. Sorry about that...

According to Harold Kerzner 90% of what we project managers do is communicating. And a lot of this communication is done during project meetings. It can sometimes feel like you are running from one meeting to another and that your time is often wasted. Meetings don’t start on time, the issues aren’t dealt with, there is no agenda, there is no focus, nobody assigns any follow ups or tasks and of course then they also don’t end on time.

But what if there were a way to make meetings much more productive?

Jeffrey Steinke (http://www.lessmeeting.com) thinks there is and he has a lot of good suggestions for you. It all starts by not having a meeting at all and taking things offline. And then if you need to actually have a meeting, it requires planning and follow through. You can look forward to our usual bucket full of recommendations that you can apply on your project meetings tomorrow.

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. 

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #255. This is the Proejct Management Podcast at www.pm-podcasat.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.

According to Harold Kerzner, 90% of what we project managers do is communicating and a lot of this communication is done during project meetings. It can sometimes feel like you are running from one meeting to another and that your time is often wasted.

This episode is sponsored by The Project Management Podcast™. Yes, The Project Management Podcast™ is sponsoring The Project Management Podcast™ today because we wanted to remind you that as a certified PMP, you can earn PDUs from us here at absolutely zero cost. All you have to do is simply listen to our interviews and then claim your PDUs with PMI. To find out more, please go to www.pm-podcast.com/pdu and please do tell your project management colleagues about us.

So back to our interview. So they don’t start on time, the issues aren't dealt with, there is no agenda. The meetings have no focus. Nobody assigns any follow ups. So tasks and of course then meetings also don’t end on time. But what if there were a way to make meetings much more productive?

Jeffrey Steinke thinks there is and he has a lot of good suggestions for you. It all starts by not having a meeting and taking things offline. And then if you do need to actually have a meeting, it requires planning and follow through. You can look forward to our usual bucket full of recommendations that you can apply on your project meetings tomorrow.

And now, do you have your doughnuts ready? Let's go have a meeting. Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female Voice: The Project Management Podcast's Feature Interview: Today with Jeffrey Steinke, former project manager and the co-founder of Less Meeting.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Jeff! Welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!

Jeffrey Steinke: Hey Cornelius! Thanks so much for having me!

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! How are you doing in Atlanta?

Jeffrey Steinke: I'm doing fantastic. We have a nice 80-degree days so it's not that typical hot and humid you'd expect.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright and just to make everybody jealous. I'm out in California. The weather is as always beautiful.

Jeffrey Steinke: I think you still beat me.

Cornelius Fichtner: So we want to talk about meetings. We're having a meeting right now, a sort of, over Skype. But why do you say that meetings are the number one time waster?

Jeffrey Steinke: You know, where do I begin with this one? I don’t think this is going to surprise too many people. There's a laundry list of reasons. They run off-topic. They're not planned well. They run late. There is often no purpose. People aren't prepared. All these different things that create this feeling of just wastefulness. When you walk out of that meeting room, you think yourself that 30 minutes, that 60 minutes was just a waste of time. I could have been doing better things.

That's one thing. But this is further compounded by the fact that there are just so many meetings. Atlassian, the folks behind your confluence and some other tools, they did a study that found that on average each employee has 62 meetings per month. I mean that's a tremendous amount of time that people are spending in meetings and then once you coupled that with how poorly they're being run, it's really a no-brainer.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right and what is the total amount that is estimated that we are wasting in these meetings?

Jeffrey Steinke: So this is crazy, back to that study I was referencing, they tell you that based on average domestic salaries, it's come out to 37 billion dollars wasted annually in meetings. That's just a huge amount, right?

Cornelius Fichtner: It is. However, what will we do without meetings? Nothing would get done?

Jeffrey Steinke: Exactly. That's kind of where my background comes in to play. Meetings are still critical part of getting work done within an organization. A lot of individuals out there have tried these no-meeting policies where they say: "We're just not going to have meetings in our organization." And wow, I think that's a lofty goal. I don’t think it's a very realistic goal. Meetings are still important. What it is important to do is to just get rid of bad meetings because bad meetings are toxic because what happens is when you have toxic meetings, they bring down all the other good meetings and then nobody wants to go to any meeting at all.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. So the information that we're talking about here by the way folks is part of an infographic that Jeff and his company Less Meeting have created. I'll make sure we get a link to this.

So what do we do in order to improve? What do you recommend how we get all of these under control?

Jeffrey Steinke: You know that's a great question. That's really where our specialty. There are a number of different things you can be doing. The first and foremost is always have an agenda. Take time to plan the meeting. Make sure you have a reason for meeting and detail it up beforehand. Take notes during a meeting. Document those notes. Share it with everyone else in the meeting. More importantly, share those notes with people who might have not been able to attend the meeting. It's a really powerful concept when you realize you don’t have to be in that conference room every time when you know that instead there's going to be some mini-notes out there somewhere that you can easily access.

Take care of task management. Meetings are all about getting work done and moving the project forward. Part of that is we're always around statuses and getting those tasks that are assigned in the meeting done and then following up. The meeting doesn’t end when everybody walks out of the meeting room. The meeting actually ends when all those tasks that we have assigned, when those actually get completed and that's really what shows the progress of the meeting.

And then the last thing is just always improving. So kind of the traditional feedback loop. Identify things that are working well, that aren't working well. How can we make those improvements on our meetings?

Cornelius Fichtner: The one thing that I would like us to talk about us next is the first item that you mentioned that many people do wrong, the meeting agenda. So what's wrong with today's meeting agendas?

Jeffrey Steinke: Well the first thing that's wrong with them is that the majority of the time, there is no agenda. It sounds simple and I think everybody's probably familiar with what an agenda is. It's nothing too groundbreaking but it's so often overlooked yet is really one of the most important factors in a meeting. If you are to break to meeting down into 3 parts: The before meeting, the during meeting and the after meeting, the follow-up process, everything ultimately comes back to that agenda before the meeting. If you can't take 30 seconds to put together an agenda for the meeting, then I would challenge you to ask: Is that meeting really worthwhile? So the first thing is just to do the agenda.

The more importantly, do it beforehand and share it with everyone who is going to be in the meeting. This gives them the necessary information that they can complete any pre-work they need, take care of any responsibilities, all those kinds of things. That way when everybody shows up for the day of the meeting, you're ready to go and can really make the best use of that time.

Cornelius Fichtner: Anything else that you would include in the meeting agenda?

Jeffrey Steinke: Yes! The first thing is just as I mentioned to do. But there are different parts. I'll break it down to...First and foremost, outlying the purpose, outlying the goal. The number 1, say 'why are we having this meeting?'

Number 2, list a few topics. Maybe 3 topics. Go into detail but describe what it is you're going to cover. One important thing to think about there is topics are first of all detailed so that way it's not just a very generic. Let's say if we're talking about project status meetings. We don’t want an agenda topic, a very bad agenda topic would be status. It doesn’t tell anybody anything. Instead, let's think about what's the status for a very specific project or maybe even more detail: What's the status of a particular component that we might be building for a piece of software. So let's get detailed on those topics.

The second and I think about with those topics is how we plan them out based off the time of the meeting. In particular, one really strong way to think about meeting planning with that agenda is to use what we call an agenda-based schedule. So plan out the length of your meeting after you create your agenda instead of the other way around which is typically the traditional thing. A lot of times people go in to Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar and they'll schedule a 30 or 60-minute meeting and then just starting listing off some agenda topics. While it's great they're having an agenda, the downside is you're really not sticking up the timing of that agenda very effectively with how much time you have allotted. So figure out your agenda and then figure out a couple of topics and then figure out how much time you think you're going to spend on those topics and use that to drive the length of your meeting.

Cornelius Fichtner: How far into the details do you personally like to go on these agendas? Because you said, not just the project status or project status for project but down to individual items. Don’t we get too much far into the weeds here now?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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