Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Project Manager’s Cycle – Conduct Project Team Meeting

“Alright, let me take a few minutes to update everyone from the Sponsor meeting.  You got the minutes, but I’ll drive into some of the content between the lines.  Then we’ll go around and let everyone give their update.”
I like to hold my project team meetings early in the week – Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning – and focus on what will be accomplished by the end of the week.  Over the years I’ve attended many other team meetings.  Those experiences, like my own early experiences where I focused on getting a status from everyone, provided a very accurate after-the-fact picture of project slippage.
We near the end of this series on The Project Manager’s Cycle.  The project team meeting is a different animal than the Client Project Meeting.  It doesn’t need the formality.  It’s where you surface the problems and develop an action plan for responding to them, so that you can go to the client with solutions, rather than problems.
I found that meeting early in the week and asking the team members what they were going to accomplish by the end of the week was effective at focusing their energies as well as driving out issues before they occurred.  There are only a few possible responses.  For example, if a team member explained that they wouldn’t complete a task on schedule because of a blockage that I could eliminate, I could do my job, keep them productive, and avoid problems.  Or if they commit to accomplish things that aren’t in the schedule, that creates an opening for me to ask questions to understand the variance.
The best case is if they commit to complete activities that are aligned with the schedule.  For most people, that duration is short enough that they have visibility into anything that would prevent them from completing the task.  So I can be fairly confident that if they say they’ll get it done that week, they will.
There’s one more question I ask, though, that builds on the commitment.  “What can prevent you from completing this task on schedule?”  This question is subtly powerful.  The inexperienced or naïve may say “Nothing.”  But this is a trap.   If they subsequently fail to make the commitment they cannot then roll out a series of excuses.  They have already stated before their peers that the only reason they would fail to deliver is their own.
The experienced, sharp, connected team members will use this opportunity to list all of the possible causes of failure or delay, which is just what I want.  I write the list down, then go through each item one by one.  These are the detailed task risks that you don’t generally hear about until they are brought out as excuses after missing the date.  By exposing them before the due date, as a team we can qualify them, prioritize them, determine the appropriate response, and assign an owner before rather than after the fact.  If something does happen, we have evidence of anticipating the problem and proactively responding.  Further, it gives me the opportunity to ramp up client or management resources in anticipation of a problem.
Further, when team members see that I am using the information to make them successful, they become even more open and trusting.
In terms of process, the project team meeting consists of the activities publish the meeting agenda;  conduct the meeting; and publish the minutes.  Inputs are team member individual status reports, the project schedule, and minutes from the Client Project Meeting.  Outputs may include updates to the schedule, Project Status Report, risk register, and issue log.
Most team members are forthright and dependable.  The challenge, though, is recognizing and motivating the remainder.  What do you do in your project team meetings to improve success, even from the challenging members?  Do you have other best practices to share for optimizing the success of your project team?

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