When running projects, how often are you involved in a project status meeting. Once a week? Once every two weeks? Studies show that the most effective project teams meet once a day.
For project champions, meeting daily is the best way to stay on top of what’s happening with the project team, and for project managers it is essential for making minor adjustments to the goal, or responding to risk events before they get out of hand. But how do you organize a daily meeting without being hanged by your project team? Follow these time-tested tips, and your team will love you for it.
Tip # 1: Keep the Meeting to 15 Minutes
This is absolutely vital, which is why it’s listed first. Nobody wants to be involved in a daily meeting that is scheduled for an hour, and consistently runs over another 30 to 60 minutes. This may become challenging with a larger team, however I’ve personally worked through 10 team members, and I know of teams where 20 team members were involved. I’d say if you have more than 20 people talking you should use another format. Otherwise, 15 minutes is the hard target.
Start the meeting exactly on time (to the second). Show up at least 5 minutes before the meeting to get setup. Your project kickoff is a good place to set the right tone for these meetings, so leverage this format wisely.
Tip # 2: Follow a Strict 3 Question Format
There are only three things you need to know from each person talking:
What did you do yesterday?
What are you planning to do today?
Is there anything stopping you from getting your job done?
Systematically circle the room with each person answering these three questions. If you are managing the group (i.e. waterfall project), make a quick comment after each set of answers, or engage in a quick dialog, then move to the next person. If you are coaching the group (i.e. agile project), have each person (or pair) address the group, and allow a very brief discussion, then move on. At the slightest hint of a tangent or problem solving discussion, use the parking lot (see below).
Tip # 3: Meet in Person, and Have Everybody Stand Up
It’s important that everybody physically meet in the same room or area every day, and stand up. Standing up stresses the importance of having a short meeting. Nobody is going to have a long meeting while they are standing up. Physical presences is important, trying to do this virtually is messy, even with recent advances in videoconferencing.
Of course, if you have a team member that is physically out of the area, you may need to compromise. In this case, they must promise to be joining with a reliable connection, promise to be focused with no distractions, and promise to be standing up like the rest of the group.
Tip # 4: Understand and Respect Everybody’s Role
As you can tell, strong facilitation is absolutely necessary to meet all of your meeting objectives. Part of this is understanding everybody’s role in the meeting.
If there is a recorder and / or timekeeper, they should be established ahead of time and be prepared. A recorder is handy to take care of the parking lot (see below) and other things people want to be reminded of (there should be no other note-taking in the meeting). A timekeeper is nice to remind everybody of the time. I suggest a gentle reminder at minutes 5, 10, and 14.
The most important key is knowing who is allowed to talk, and more importantly who is not allowed to talk. The project team members are allowed to talk, in the order and format described above. If this is a managed project (i.e. waterfall project), then as the format allows, the project manager is also allowed to talk. If this is a coached project (i.e. agile project), then the coach should only talk for facilitation purposes (e.g. setup, close, and shutdown tangent discussions). Everybody else is not allowed to talk until the end, where a simple “thank you” is about all that’s appropriate.
Tip # 5: Use a Parking Lot for Side Conversations and Problem Solving
To help out with important discussions that will take too long for this meeting, a parking lot should be established. This is best accomplished with an easel and an assigned recorder. When the discussion starts to take a tangent, the project manager / coach should step in and say, “okay, we need to put this issue in the parking lot and move on.”
There are a few strategies for handling the parking lot, depending on the circumstances, however never ignore a parking lot item until the next day. If people start getting the impression that the parking lot is just a way to cut them off, they will not respect it, and subvert your meeting objectives. If you have time at the end of the meeting to handle parking lot items, use it. If not, schedule some follow-ups with only the people involved.
Running an effective daily meeting can boost your communication efforts, while avoiding or eliminating the need for long, boring meetings that suck your time and energy. Although initially the idea sounds like a bad idea, following some simple principles can really make the difference. Short meeting times, proper facilitation, and knowing everybody’s role are keys to your success. If you are currently holding a weekly project meeting, try going daily. Your project communication will soar as a result.