Status meetings have a tendency to get a bad reputation. Many can feel that spending anywhere from a half-hour to an hour just talking about project status when there is *real* work to be done is a major waste of time. Many times, project teams work individually or in silos that keep them isolated from the rest of the project team. Status meetings give everyone an opportunity to get together and share what’s happening, and give other team members an opportunity to come up with solutions or bring new ideas to the table as issues arise.
However, project status meetings are only as effective as the participation they yield, so it is important to make the status meeting efficient enough to encourage as many team members as possible to attend and contribute to the meeting. The main failure of many status meetings is their inability to stick to the predetermined schedule. When meetings consistently go long, it shows your project team two things: that the host of the meeting is ineffective at managing time, and that the host does not respect anyone else’s schedule or time. Meetings that consistently go 5, 10, or 15 minutes late create a ripple-effect that can turn someone’s entire day off kilter, since they could be stuck in the neverending cycle of starting a meeting 5 minutes late, which means it finishes 5 minutes late, and so on and so forth. By doing your best to ensure that your Status meeting consistently starts and finishes on time, you will show your project team that you respect their time, as well as respecting their role in your project.
Meeting Agendas are the first step in helping you manage how long the meeting will be, since you can clearly see what will be discussed. It also has the added benefit of giving your team the confidence that their time will not be wasted if they attend, because they will see exactly how the meeting applies to them. The facilitation and structure of the meeting is up to the Project Manager, but there are a few headings that I believe are necessary in every Status Meeting Agenda.
Keeping the meeting date, time, location, and conference line on the agenda will help remote team members keep all of the information in one place in the event they can’t get into their calendar. Also, keeping the list of attendees on the agenda will help you track who is (and who is not) attending. Keeping tabs on trends of attendance can help you lead your team more effectively by working with the team members that are not as regular with their attendance as they should be.
Happenings since Last Status Meeting
Status meetings have a tendency to only focus on the upcoming tasks or the bad news. Take a few minutes at the beginning of each status meeting to cover the great progress your team is making! Did someone finally fix that bug that has been bothering the testers for a while? Did that never-ending document finally get approved? Share it here! People like to hear good news, and kicking off each meeting on a positive note can have a great affect on how your status meetings go. This is also a great place to announce birthdays, introduce new team members, or even share good news that isn’t project-based, but still good for the overall organization, like new investors or the hiring of a new CEO.
Milestones can be pulled directly from your project plan, and come with a handy “Percent Complete” that will facilitate discussions around how each milestone is going. Having the milestones listed on the agenda will help team members keep up to date on the things that they aren’t directly working on, but are directly affected by. For example, your testing team may find it helpful to keep tabs on the status of the development milestones, since they are affected by the completion date for them; even though they are probably not involved in the day-to-day discussions with the Developers.
While it may be easier to keep track of open items in a separate document or tracking system, it helps to keep all information in a single document when reporting status to your team. People have a tendency ignore additional attachments, and you don’t want your Open Items to be missed, so it makes sense to take the time to copy/paste the Active Open Items onto the Agenda so that all information is in the same place and easy to access for your team members.
The trick here is to NOT solve the issues during the status meeting. Remember – a status meeting is to discuss *status*, not to solve issues or debate solutions. If a solution is required, schedule a separate meeting to work it out, and then discuss the outcome of that meeting (or series of meetings) in the next status call. It will be very tempting to take advantage of the fact that everyone is together in the meeting to solve a problem, but it runs the risk of making the meeting go long, which disrupts everyone’s schedule, and can result in fewer people attending the next meeting. I find that it makes sense to acknowledge that a discussion needs to take place, and either delegate to someone to schedule a meeting, or schedule the meeting yourself, then move on to the next topic.
Are there any training sessions coming up? Do you have a code deployment next week? Is there a major deadline looming near? List them here! Make sure that everyone knows the dates, times, and locations of any events that are coming up in the next few weeks. Nobody likes surprises, and Project Managers hate excuses. Don’t let any important dates get missed simply because someone forgot to look at the Project Calendar.
New Issues/Action Items
Things come up every day. New issues and action items are bound to be a part of almost every status meeting. Give yourself a place within your agenda to make sure that these get discussed and tracked in the minutes. These items are moved to the “Open Items” section in the next Agenda to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
It’s true, status meeting have a bad reputation; but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be turned around and made into something both effective and fun. Sticking to an Agenda can really help end the Neverending-Status-Meeting-Saga that can waste hours of your team’s time, while still giving you time to connect with your team as a whole and get through the good times and the bad together.