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You might have heard the quote, “A meeting is an event where minutes are kept but hours are lost”. Meetings are a subject of many jokes in the corporate world. Most people dread attending meetings and want to escape them. They are quite unpopular among IT project teams also. I have attended many post project review sessions where the common complaint would be that there were too many project meetings or status meetings.

But project meetings are important for successful delivery. If the meeting is conducted in the right manner, it can be quite effective and productive. It can highlight risks, issues and be a platform for taking some effective decisions and actions. Here are some tips for making project meetings effective –

1. The purpose of the meeting should be clearly defined and the meeting should be only about that. As a project manager, you should state the objectives of the meeting and what you want to achieve at the end of the meeting. If the meeting discussions go off-topic, the meeting organizer should steer the discussion back to the agenda.

2. If the objective of the meeting is clearly stated, the participants should be easy to select. The number of people should not be too many but you need to call the people who are directly affected by the meeting objectives or are decision makers on that topic. For example, if the meeting is about testing phases or quality control, the test lead or test manager should be present. Google for example has a policy of not having more than 10 people in a meeting.

3. The agenda of the meeting should be circulated along with the meeting invite well in advance so that people have time to prepare for the meeting. Of course, if it is a sudden meeting to discuss something unexpected or urgent, you might not be able to do the same. In this case, the agenda can be stated at the start of the meeting. The agenda should also have the start time and end time of the meeting. Intel takes agendas very seriously. An agenda is sent many days before the meeting and the participants are expected to read and also suggest changes to topics if necessary. This helps as people know what is the meeting about, their input and this makes use of meeting time effectively.

4. The meeting should start and finish on time. If you wait for 2 people walking in 10 minutes late for the meeting, you have wasted 10 minutes of everybody’s time and it can lead to frustration. You should avoid running over the stipulated time as people have their tasks to be completed. Other project commitments can get affected.

5. What is required for the meeting? Do you need a projector, VOIP phones to connect to people virtually or some handouts for the participants? You should ensure that all materials for the meeting are in place and infrastructure for the meeting is working properly.

6. Many project meetings are held virtually or electronically. Many participants dial in from remote locations. It is important that telephone equipment works properly and everyone has details like phone number, conference code etc. beforehand. This helps the meeting to be highly productive and meeting time can be used effectively to the fullest extent.

7. When the meeting points are discussed, there can be differences of opinion on certain matters among participants. The meeting organizer should be able to manage these discussions without the meeting losing sight of its objectives. If the discussion cannot be closed within the time allotted to it, it should be recorded as an ‘open point’ and discussed at a later point of time.

8. It is important to record meeting minutes, action items in terms of the task, who is responsible for it and the due date. The decisions made in the meeting should also be recorded and circulated to concerned persons. The meeting minutes should be circulated among all participants. The project manager should monitor status of action items.

Meetings are all about organized collaboration. You should plan and organize them such that they are productive. People should prepare themselves before attending and participate in a constructive manner. This will definitely make meetings effective and contribute in achieving the project goals.