Happy project status meetings

PM Clinic: Week 30 discussion summary

Compiled: 5/25/2005

The Situation:

We have a weekly hour meeting to review project status - but for several reasons these meetings often run much longer (and there is much suffering). The dynamics of our team are such that each person feels the need to either: have an opinion on every single topic that comes up, or analyses the topics to death.

I've tried to keep things flowing by getting people to submit status reports before the meeting so that only the issues need to be discussed (but this is failing since everyone is too busy to submit anything); and using a stopwatch to enforce talking limits (but doesn't fully work as everyone wants to convey their opinion again and again). I know we've talked about meetings on pmclinic before, but are there special considerations for project status meetings?


- Switched Off

General status meeting advice

This discussion had many different kinds of suggestions that may or may not be releveant to any specific situation..

  • Take all the chairs out of the meeting room (seriously). People aren’t as willing to gab if they aren’t comfortable.
  • Disallow laptops/cellphones/pagers/whatever in the room unless they are necessary for the work you are doing. People tend to sink into their e-mail and then surface after their name is called, requiring a bunch of discussion to be repeated.
  • Schedule the meeting for 15 (or 30) minutes and have a meeting right after that you must attend. Invent reasons for hard stops if necessary.
  • Cancel the meeting and get the information you need in other ways. Examine how effectively you're using email, websites or other ways to communicate with the team.
  • Aggressively table discussions. Learn the different flavors: “I’m sorry, we don’t have time to talk about that right now, how about tommorow?", “We’re going back over what we discussed already, let’s move on" and “I’m sorry, but right now we’re talking about X. I understand you want to discuss Y, but we’ll do it at another time”
  • Have an agenda (every day!) and only cover what’s on the agenda. If people want to talk about something move it to the next day’s agenda
  • Schedule the meeting less frequently (2 or 3x a week rather than daily)
  • Hand out Nerf weapons and allow people to “vote” with their weapon J (This method is actually used in one of our companies 2-day research offsite meetings—it probably wouldn’t work at most companies, however)
  • Schedule the meeting at the end of the day, or right before lunch and let people know that the only thing between them and home/food is getting through the agenda items.
  • Talk to people who are habitual “disrupters” outside of the meeting and see if you can find ways of getting them the information that they need so that they don’t hijack your meeting.
  • Make sure that only the people who really need to be there are there. Send out e-mail summarizing the meeting to everyone else.

Thoughts on status reports

Something is wrong if people are too busy to write status. Status reports should be a way to help get work done, not just a lost block of time. If you ask people what they spend their time doing, and list the effects you want status reports to have, you'll find some overlaps. Agree that status reports should be trying to achieve those overlaps.

Thoughts on bad status meetings

Often meetings only show the surface level problems. You probably can't solve the deeper problems in the meeting itself. If two team leaders have serious disagreements, the meeting will be their battlefield. To solve real problems you often need to talk to people outside of meetings, one on one if possible, and make your case for what problem you see and how you think it might be fixed.


Scrum meetings


Neil Enns, David Cortright, aisal Jawdat, Jeri Dansky, P Andrew, David Gorbet, Scott Berkun (editor)

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