Some things are just part of management, and are done because it is the way it has always been done. Habits can be a powerful success factor, and habits can be a powerful destructive factor. And to make it worse, a habit can have been developed in a context in which it was positive, yet now the context is now different. This is why it is important to be agile, nimble and always learning. This is more important than developing positive habits, because habits can be positive because of the context. A change in context can change the usefulness and appropriateness of any habit. And in today’s world, change is constant and fast.
Meetings are like that. Meetings have been around for a long time. You almost need to have a somewhat rebel mind to challenge a meeting. Others will stare at you, almost saying:
“Don’t you understand? Meetings are important if you want to manage. And moreover communication is essential!”
Yet this rationale includes many assumptions:
- What was done in the past is always the best option: If this would be true, let’s cancel all research and innovative projects. If it would be true, we would still be in a cave.
- Management techniques must include meetings: Really? Management is about achieving objectives and getting results. It is important to never lose sight of the main purpose of management activities. Otherwise there is a risk of just talking the talking: using tools and techniques just use them, yet not producing results. Management techniques are only tools to achieve an objective, not the objective itself.
- Communication can only occur in meetings: With all the new means of communication and technology, SMS, bulletin board, intranet, collaborative workspaces, online project management software, cell phone, smart phone, texting, can we really say this in 2013? It is more accurate to say that meetings is now only one of many communication tools that a project manager can use.
- Communication does and always happen in a meeting. Finally, it is important to be honest. It is possible to have a meeting in which all invitees attended yet no successful communication have occurred. Meetings can be just a period of time, when project team members sit and listen (or pretend to) until they are authorized to leave and go back to (actually) work on the project.
Unfortunately, many managers do meetings to appear as if they are managing. And in some ways, the larger the organization the more chance you have to find this. Often in large organizations, people do meetings to look good by doing what “you are supposed to do”, “what always has been done”, no matter the results (or lack of).
So let’s step back, wisely and calmly. Meetings can be useful and meetings can be useless. They are now just one of the potential tools that you can use to manage your projects.
A project is authorized because the benefits of it are considered larger than the cost of doing the project. Projects are supposed to be a value-added proposition. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be doing the project in the first place.
Then in the planning phase of the project, the project team will develop a plan that should maximize the benefits and minimize the cost. Tasks should not be done as a “hobby”. They should add value and support the success of the project, considering all the competing constraints (including cost).
Personally, I would like to have a clock in every meetings with the hourly cost of every persons in the room adding up… and up… and up. It would force discipline.
If you always think about the cost of a meeting, you will then focus on ensuring each meeting has a value-added purpose, and at the same time try to minimize its cost. After all, if a full cost analysis is done, it is not hard in large organization to find meetings that cost 1,000$/hour or more. If as a manager we would propose any other tasks with such a price that would have no benefits (or even just less benefits than the cost), it would be declined. So why the exemption for meetings?
So for each meetings, it is important to answer those questions
- Does the meeting have a purpose, an objective?
- Is a meeting the best management tool, or others alternatives would be more efficient?
- What is the full cost per hour of all the persons attending the meeting?
- What is the minimum size required? Do we have the right persons in the room?
- What is the minimum amount of time required for a good meeting? Can we manage time effectively?
- Can we identify next action items resulting from the meetings?
I must confess here that management of time in meetings is often horrible. Strangely, if a team member doing a delivery (or any other task) would take the longest path to perform the task, the project management team would find this inappropriate. Yet, the same kind of ineffective time management is tolerated in management meetings.
AtTtask has developed this nice infographic called 9 reasons meetings suck. AtTask is a great project management online application, with full project, program and portfolio features. Unfortunately, it is so good that it is only offered at the enterprise level. I would love if they could have smaller accounts for small teams. But if you have a team of 10 or more, I recommend that you consider Attask. In this info graphic, they do mention the very high cost of ineffective and inefficient meetings. It is not immaterial.
As a note, I found recently this interesting website designed to help manage meetings. It looks very interesting. It is called Less Meeting.