Yaniv Shor is the founder and CEO of Proggio and the author of the book Time to Deliver, a must read for project managers.
First, it was, “This meeting could have been an email.” And then, “This meeting could have been a Slack or Teams message.”
Could the next iteration be no meetings at all?
It’s no secret that most meetings are a huge waste of time, to say nothing of the time invested in preparing material for these meetings. That giant time suck costs companies billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, and unfortunately, it’s only gotten worse with the transition to virtual meetings.
Recent Microsoft data shows our time spent in meetings has increased by over 250% since the shift to remote work. Although we might have cut down on the small talk and side discussions, it seems we’re doubling down on time together in an effort to maintain connection and engagement.
Project managers are especially vulnerable to endless meetings. In fact, it’s such a well-known problem that the recent Passion for Projects event in Stockholm focused its entire program on how to improve meeting culture, management and technology. As part of the program, keynote speaker and workplace communication expert Antoni Lacinai delivered an insightful presentation on how empathy, energy and clarity—the communication superpowers—are essential for creating a more engaged organizational culture. And it makes perfect sense!
And it’s exactly why meetings are such an issue for project managers—because the tools they have to communicate and keep up to date on tasks and project statuses between meetings are ineffective. Project managers basically have two choices when it comes to gathering status updates from team members: either track them down through emails, drive-by visits or messages or hold everyone hostage in meetings and force them to report to the group. I’ve managed multiple project meetings in which a full hour was dedicated exclusively to getting an updated status on various items rather than brainstorming and decision making. No wonder people get frustrated and impatient, just waiting for the meeting to be over. It has no value for them.
The problem is that some project portfolio management platforms don’t give users a way to see who’s working on what and how dependencies link together or any project and portfolio context. As a result, these meetings are sometimes the only way they understand how their individual work fits into the company’s larger effort. But there’s no time for collaboration because the status meeting is spent simply reporting on where things stand. Addressing issues and discussing problems requires a separate meeting—and soon the entire calendar is full.
Project managers also need to report to management and stakeholders about how projects are progressing. That means spending hours compiling all of those individual status reports into a PowerPoint to give management some visual indication as to how things are going. Because management doesn’t always have access to real-time project KPIs, project managers spend a lot of time each month generating reports, to say nothing of the amount of time they spend in meetings to get that data or share it with management. It’s no wonder that by the end of each week, project managers feel burned out and left wondering if they actually got any work done.
Instead, what if we could reduce those project-related meetings?
One way is to eliminate meetings held exclusively for status reporting. Instead, choose one channel—perhaps email, a specific Slack thread or even a shared document—and require task owners to submit status reports by a specific deadline each week (or whatever frequency works best for your project or organization). This consolidates all the information into one platform and simplifies prep for the project manager.
Second, block time on the meeting agenda specifically for collaboration on issues. By creating the space for discussion within the allotted time frame, you’re more likely to stay on task with the agenda and avoid going too far down a specific rabbit hole, which then eats up the entire meeting block and leaves topics or issues that don’t make the cut unaddressed.
It’s also a smart move to encourage people to have side conversations about specific interdependencies or questions they need answered outside the larger project status meeting. This is sometimes referred to as putting issues “in the parking lot,” but the project manager needs to take note of these items and follow up to make sure those issues are discussed or resolved.
Finally, adaptive project and portfolio management tools can help project managers—and the entire project team—stay on top of project statuses in real time from their desks. With collaboration tools that everyone updates as tasks are completed and that allow the entire team to understand the context of work, everyone can be on the same page at all times, and there’s no need for time-consuming reporting meetings. Stakeholders and managers can access a visual plan and dashboard of where things stand, spot any bottlenecks, adjust priorities and see how an adjustment changes resource allocations, timelines and other KPIs.
Now instead of spending so much time in meetings talking about what is being done, teams can talk about how and why and, more importantly, how to do it better. With more time for collaboration, innovation and celebrating wins, teams can work more efficiently and effectively and stay more engaged in the work and in the process.
Although it’s certainly worthwhile to explore how to improve meeting processes, let’s be honest: What we all really want is to have fewer of them and the ones we must have to have more value. When progress data is available as it happens, we can then use that time together to brainstorm, discuss options, make decisions and, ultimately, deploy a more efficient process.
Like any other problem, addressing the root cause is the first step to solving it. With the right approach, we can eliminate the root cause of many wasteful meetings and give people and their companies more time, energy and resources to put toward getting work done.