The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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The Importance of the Pre-Meeting

I used to be caught off guard when decisions with Stakeholders would be made quickly, and seemingly without any input from the people speaking in the meeting.  I later learned that most decisions are made *before* a meeting ever takes place.   I spent a long time trying to figure out how those decisions got made.  When I learned the concept of the ‘Pre-Meeting’, I spent hours trying to figure out how to squeeze my way in to the decision-makers’ calendars.  In my experience, the more time you need to work out issues with a Stakeholder, the more completely booked their calendar is.  However, even if someone’s calendar is booked from 7:30 to 7:30, it is still possible to find a few minutes here and there.  The important thing is to pay attention and be dynamic.

 

Even executives need to use the restroom or get their caffeine fix.  Pay attention to when your Stakeholder breaks for coffee and walk them to the elevator.  If you can make the conversation interesting enough, you may find yourself joining them on their coffee run.  You’ve now found 15 minutes of dedicated time with your stakeholder.  If they seem to be caffeine free, ‘accidentally’ run into them when they are walking from one conference room to another – the same ‘interesting conversation’ rules apply – whet their appetite with the high-level intro of the issue, and you may suddenly have a spot on their calendar.  Worst case, you can send a ‘teaser email’ with a basic headline of the issue you need to discuss, and ask if they have 5 minutes to spare.  As long as you don’t make a practice of asking for 5 minutes and taking an hour, this can be a valuable tool.

 

Not all issues require executive stakeholders.  Your best resources for information or heads to bounce ideas off of are your co-workers.  Before you even need their advice or help on something, start getting in the habit of walking with your co-workers.  I have a few ‘coffee buddies’ that I walk with.  Much of the time, I don’t even get a coffee, but I take advantage of the 10-15 minutes I have with them to build rapport and ‘talk shop’.  That way, when one of us has a real issue to work out, we’re already in the habit of going for a ‘coffee run’ and working through issues.  This simple daily activity can make a huge difference between working long hours and pulling your hair out, and a quick and efficient solution to your project issues.  When it comes to coffee-related problem-solving, you need to be as available to your team as you would like them to be available for you.  Don’t get in the habit of only going for coffee runs when *you* need help.  Remember, you have valuable experience and connections of your own that can be pivotal in solving issues for your co-workers.

 

If there is one thing I hate at work, it is being caught by surprise on one of my projects.  As a Project Manager, I should not be surprised by anything that comes up in my Status Meetings.  To avoid getting side-swiped by any news, I do my best to keep an eye on all aspects of my projects, at least on a high level.  Part of staying on top of things means that I have a number of one-on-one conversations with my team members.  I’d much rather find things out during a phone call or hallway conversation than in a public forum.  Pre-Meetings like this can make your life much easier at work.  This article will break down how to properly use pre-meetings to help get rid of  surprises that can’t be quickly and quietly handled.

 

When I manage large projects, I usually have a few sub-team leaders that are in charge of specific milestones on my project plan.  Before my weekly Status Meetings, I usually schedule about 15 minutes with each of those leaders to review what’s going on and if there is anything getting in their way.  If there are issues to be resolved, we discuss a few options and decide which are viable enough to share with the entire team at the larger meeting.  I’ve had a few experiences where the pre-meeting wasn’t possible, and I was caught off-guard by some issues that had popped up.  Situations like that are a fast reminder of exactly how much of a difference a simple phone call can make.

Find a way to squeeze in a few pre-meetings and find out exactly how much of a difference it can make in your career.  You may find that your pre-meeting schedule is changing your life!

About the Author

Abby Dryer, PMP is a Chicago-based Project Manager, specializing in system integration. She focuses much of her energy on team-building and morale - as a cohesive team with high morale can be a determining factor in the success or failure of a project.
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