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Blind Spot 2 – Death by Meeting

Implementation

Mark Woeppel - June 17, 2013

Ugh.  Another project meeting.  We’ve all been there, annoyed when our reminder goes off (if you still use them!) reminding us of our 8th meeting of the day.  We’re annoyed because there are so many meetings and these meetings never seem to get anywhere.  The same stories, the same excuses.  Well, at the close of the meeting, at least we know where we are.  Or do we?

There are lots of ways to make meetings more productive, but I won’t bore you with them.  Rather, I’ll pose a question: why have them at all?  You could also ask, why are there so many of them?

Death by meeting to manage a project is a symptom.  It’s a symptom of a project management process that is out of control.  Most project team members don’t even see frequent meetings as a problem; they are simply a fact of life.  The reality of the situation is hidden.

Meetings themselves are not the problem.  They provide a useful function of forcing communication of important information. They synchronize resources, allocate activities, and highlight the project’s delays. At least, that’s what they’re supposed to do.  We see other things happening in project meetings: status updates, defending turf, defending original commitments, giving reasons why things haven’t worked out – a laundry list of missed expectations.  Projects executed looking through the rear-view mirror.

With this kind of management, the project team never gets a clear view of what’s ahead and what action to take.

There are two (main) reasons for this kind death:

1.  The project team does not know the real status of the project (where we are, where to go)
2.  The project team’s measurements are not in alignment

I’ve written a lot about our ViewPoint visual project management approach that essentially solves the first problem.  Essentially the approach creates a shorthand (visual view) for the project (similar to KANBAN and Agile) and its status, which helps the project team move forward.  You can read more about it on the Visual Project Management page here.

The second issue is a bit more complicated, as there are often conflicting measurements among the players on the project team.  We see conflicting measures all the time, but the biggest are between resource utilization and project velocity.  During the execution, the team is making constant trade-offs between keeping people “productive” and maintaining the velocity of task completion.   I’ve written about this issue before, and will again.

We worked with a manufacturer’s engineering department and discovered that all the designers were working in isolation within their own cubicles, not able to see the big picture.  The projects were not moving.  The meetings were not productive, in turn frustrating everyone involved even further.  By changing the way the team managed the projects, they were able to clear a six-month backlog of work in less than 90 days.  Read the case study here

To read more about the hidden threats that project managers must face, read our new eBook Blindsided! Five Invisible Project Threats Successful Managers Must See.

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