Adopting A More Structured Approach To Project Status Meetings
One of the project manager's key responsibilities is to be aware of and report on the status of a project at any given time. Project status meetings have become one of the primary tools used by project managers to gather intelligence and feedback on various project activities and review it against the project plan.
From our experience, these meetings have unfortunately become inefficient, ineffective, and wasted opportunities for developing accountability and transparency. Team members often use them as an inappropriate platform to discuss issues which have no relevance to a project's progress (such as contracts, proposed changes, and requests for clarification of requirements), air grievances, and criticize the efforts of others.
We contend therefore that a more structured approach is required. One in which time and energy is used more effectively and little to no room is made for unconstructive pursuits such as debates, arguments, and putting others down. Project status meetings should be brief, its objectives made clear ahead of time, and focused on where the project currently stands with respect to its schedule, quality, scope, budget, deliverables, and obstacles to effective implementation. Issues not applicable to updates and progress should be tabled for discussion at another time, with only those required to attend.
Requiring effective facilitation, shared understanding, focus, a clearly defined pathway, and discipline, our structured approach to project status meetings is comprised of five major and distinct segments which aim to bring about a greater sense of purpose by answering two key questions, "Why did we meet?" and "What did we achieve?"
Define at its start, the purpose for and intent of the meeting. Outline what format it will take, the specific time that will be allotted, and what guidelines are to be followed. A clearly defined structure and consensus on how the meeting will be run at the onset, is paramount. A detailed agenda should always be prepared and shared with team ahead of time, so as to assist in the communication of expectations and others in its preparation.
Supported by data and other relevant documentation, the next segment should be reserved for objective reporting and feedback on the progress of activities and related issues. Meeting attendees in turn, should be allowed to only share relevant and pertinent information devoid of opinion, speculation, and criticism of others or the project. Anyone seeking to do otherwise should be reminded of the objectives and guidelines which were laid out. Participants should be excused if they desire not to comply.
The team should critically analyze and assess the project's risks or threats, operational issues, current challenges, changes in the project environment, activities or events which may warrant immediate attention, and warning signs - all within the context of the information presented previously. Some of these signs can include poorly developed project plans, unclear expectations, deteriorating trust and relationships within the team, poorly defined roles and responsibilities, and frequent scope changes. The project manager should use this segment to also assess and evaluate the project's then fit and alignment to its stated objectives and goals.
Many of the issues impacting progress would be more clearly defined and understood at this point. Encourage the team to engage in constructive thinking to arrive at practical and novel suggestions, improvements, ideas, methods, proposals, and alternate approaches which resolve or address these issues, yet aligned with an overall sighting of the project.
The intelligence gathered during the meeting should now be transformed into actionable plans or activities defined by clear and achievable objectives, matched against specific timelines for completion and those responsible for its execution. The project manager would then have the responsibility for updating the project management plan and its constituent plans, and having the changes communicated to all of the applicable stakeholders.
Bring the meeting to a close in the final segment with a brief review of all that has been discussed, achieved, agreed to, and planned. Inform the team of dates for subsequent meetings, follow up discussions, distribution of minutes and reports, and instructions. Thank them for their invaluable input and attendance.