Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Project Manager’s Cycle – Conduct Client Project Meeting

The occasion was the monthly project review meeting.  The PMO hosted these and all PMs were in attendance.  The typical agenda would have the PMO director select a half dozen projects, three flowing smoothly and three challenged projects, the PMs for each project would present the status, then the floor would open for Q&A.  Having your project records open to your peers can be very intimidating.  For this meeting, however, the senior project auditor  was presenting the latest revision of the project audit checklist.
“As you can see on the monitor, the checklist has five items for the client meeting.  For documentation, the PM should bring the most recent six weeks of client meeting minutes.  These are the document of record for the meeting.  Step 62 confirms that you are using the correct minutes template.  For step 63 of the checklist, we will confirm the frequency of the actual meetings.  For step 64, we will review the invitees and minutes recipients.  For step 65, we check that project risks have been reviewed and documented in the minutes at least once in the last month.  The final step in this section, as all others, is for the auditor’s subjective review – that the documentation reflects meaningful, productive and valuable effort, not just completion of a “check box” so the PM can pass the audit.  Any questions?
As Bob Dylan sang, everybody’s gotta serve somebody.  Whether it is the Sponsor, Owner, or Client, you serve this person as their agent to deliver the project.  They have delegated this responsibility – and presumably the authority – to you and will periodically want to discuss your stewardship of their project.
The Client Project Meeting is an odd duck in The Project Manager’s Cycle.  The predecessor activity to the client project meeting is Publish the Project Status Report (PSR, which I haven’t discussed yet) and the project status report is the input into the client project meeting.  The output of the client project meeting, in addition to the minutes, is potential input into any of the nine Knowledge Areas of the PMBoK (integration management, scope management, time management, etc.), any of the Executing Process Group activities (those activities specific to delivering the product or service), action items, commitment management, and the agenda for the project team meeting.
If I am delivering specifically a project status meeting to a project owner or client, I generally prefer not to have other project team members attend.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  I have control of the information and the flow and we can talk more freely.  But it can be intimidating if there are several owner representatives and there is always the risk of filtering information too much.  I will make exceptions when a team member has a specific contribution (to support a technical discussion, for example) or if I particularly trust members of the project team.  The owner can invite anyone they choose to this meeting and when this happens the meeting becomes more a stakeholder meeting than just a Client Project Meeting.
The purpose of the Client Project Meeting is to deliver the project status and to receive any changes in direction or commitment.  The most recently published project status report is the document of record, even if it is a week old, which it can often be.  It is important to have, maintain, and deliver “one version of the truth.”  I start with the latest published PSR, then discuss developments since it was published, which can help foreshadow the content of the next PSR and prepare the stage for bad news that may be brewing.
The component activities for the Client Project Meeting are:  Prepare and distribute the meeting agenda (one business day in advance);  Prepare the meeting package (agenda, project status report, change requests needing approval, deliverables needing approval, etc.);  Conduct the Client Project Meeting;  Publish meeting minutes (within one business day);  and Update issue, change, acceptance, risk, and commitment logs.
On a good week, the Client Project Meeting can bolster your ego, with lots of praise and acclamation.  On a bad week, you may feel like a cheap cut of beef, dropped in the coals, left too long, then squeezed through the wringer.  Good or bad, I always walk out of these meetings counting my fingers and toes.  It was a good Client Project Meeting if they’re all still there.
Obviously there are many options for the Client Project Meeting;  the decision of who attends, alone, changes the tone of the meeting considerably.  What are your experiences, good and bad, with other approaches to the Client Project Meeting?

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