For project managers, status meetings are a critical tool for greater success. The more complicated the project, the more critical the status meetings become. And projects that have increased number of stakeholders should have increased attendance to really leverage the meeting.
During the meeting, you should be raising important points, as you and other attendees focus on suggesting action items. A good meeting will have participants engaging, cooperating, showing accountability, and willing to undertake new tasks. Seems like these meetings always are the perfect segue for greater progress on the project, right? Wrong!
Unfortunately, the days immediately following a meeting often find a complete lack of the very progress discussed there. If you have frequently seen your hopes dashed and your anticipations vanish quickly, you are not alone! In fact, those hosting a weekly meeting, or perhaps conducting one every two weeks, may find participants only tending to their action items and tasks a day before the next meeting. Many times they only get moving on their action items after you publish the upcoming meeting agenda, knowing that they are going to be expected to report progress.
The day before the next status meeting is too late for them to be starting. There likely won’t be enough time for them to accomplish much, and they’ll arrive at the meeting almost empty-handed, perhaps with partial updates and maybe even a half-hearted attempt at apologizing for having been too busy. In a “Groundhog Day” moment, you are back to square one with the same list of actions and the same positive atmosphere in the room, as if a week or two had not passed since the last meeting.
Understanding the “Meeting Persona”
How do you stop the frustrating and seemingly endless cycle? First, understand why it happens; contrary to popular belief, it’s not because people are too busy, perpetual procrastinators, or lazy.
Here’s what happens far-too-often: Your project team arrives at the meeting with, what I like to call, the “Meeting Persona” attitude. In this state of mind, they are willing to dedicate time for your status meeting that had been scheduled in advance and for which they had planned. Hopefully, you did a good job explaining how important the project is, and they understand why it is critical to the company’s success. This mental state is what’s driving both the meeting’s ambiance as well the personal commitment of positive cooperation.
The problem is that the Meeting Persona remains in the room when the meeting ends and everyone walks out. Good intentions conflict with other tasks, priorities, ad-hoc requests, and even personal lives. Human nature takes over as they try to juggle many balls in the air, and they can’t seem to reconcile the different obligations and other “Personas.”
Maintaining a “status meeting state” all week long
Accepting the behavior can be devastating to your project’s success. But now that you have met the Meeting Persona, you can stop blaming your team for being irresponsible, lazy, procrastinators, or unaccountable. Now that you have gotten to the bottom of the problem, you can change the outcome of future meetings with a basic solution: Between status meetings, retract participants to their “meeting mindset”.
How can you help people maintain the mindset, without physically dragging them back to the meeting room, so there will be progress and follow up on action items in between meetings with the same enthusiasm and cooperation they had before leaving the meeting? Here are some simple steps:
- Avoid sending the meeting’s minutes immediately after the meeting ends. If they paid attention and took notes, they should remember what went on in the meeting for at least a little while after leaving. Some project managers (especially the fast typists) like hitting the “send” button immediately when the meeting ends, but that efficiency doesn’t bode well for productivity. Instead, send the meeting summary one or even two days later. If your meeting was held on a Thursday or Friday, don’t let the minutes get lost in the weekend, but instead send it early the following week to make it jog their memories and remind them of action items.
- Send subsequent reminders, manually or even automated. People don’t like overkill nudges, but they can appreciate a progress outline or report designed to help them. For example, consider a format of “Actions assigned to you which are about to start: are you ready?” and “These actions were scheduled to start several days ago. Have you reported any progress?” If your report offers value, it is not a pesky prod but rather a welcomed prompt.
- Celebrate success! Comments such as “Thank you John and Alice for the recent update. Nice progress!” immediately offers some team members positive enforcement over others who weren’t mentioned. Everybody like their 15 minutes of fame, even if it is only in the local department spotlight.
- Make it visual. It is easier for people to get back to something they remember. For example, have you ever walked around the office and noticed that someone suddenly remembered his task just from seeing you? Why did that happen? Visually seeing you reminds people of the meeting and their responsibilities assigned there. So instead of sending everyone your picture (although you can opt for the selfie avenue too, if you desire), make sure that a project visual is available in a place people can easily see, physically or digitally. And if you send reminders in the form of a progress outline or report, as suggested earlier, try to incorporate visuals that will pull them back into their meeting mental state and to their action items.
Onward and forward to success
With these methods, you should be able to keep people more connected between meetings and have them demonstrating their Meeting Persona more frequently. Some of the techniques described here are built into Proggio to help you effectively maintain the project progress between project status meetings.
If you have an alternative method to that suggested here, please share it; we’d be happy to learn and share what is working for you!