Make Your Meetings 60% More Effective

effective meeting

While effective meetings may not be the key to success, ineffective meetings are inarguably one of the largest time wasters in corporations. Applying these tips before, during, and after meetings will make us much more effective.

A software team will have many meetings, especially surrounding gathering and managing requirements. These can be brainstorming meetings, stakeholder interviews, or prioritization meetings. They can be requirement validation sessions, status updates, or any of a number of meetings surrounding the application of use cases to software product development.

chestnut

Before the Meeting

The old chestnut, failing to plan is planning to fail, rings true here. An unplanned meeting isn’t an assured disaster, but the odds are that you will waste time. Always define the goal(s) of a meeting – if you don’t have clear goals, you don’t need to have a meeting. Communicate those goals and a schedule in an agenda, and make sure the prep work is done before the rest of the attendees are “on the clock.”

  • Define Goals for the Meeting

The meeting must have a purpose. Define it as a goal or goals of the meeting. Include the list of goals in the invite. This sets everyone’s expectations, and helps keep topics relevant throughout the meeting. By consistently using goals in meetings, people quickly adapt to the rythm. Let people know that if the goals are achieved early, the meeting ends early.

  • Prepare an Agenda in Advance

We should always send an agenda the day before the meeting (at the latest). The agenda provides preparatory value in that it allows people to review any relevant background information in advance. This avoids 90% of the need to bring people up to speed on the topics at hand. Only the chronicly unprepared attendees will both ignore the agenda and expect to derail the meeting because they didn’t do their homework.

Target specific times for each step in the meeting. We can monitor our progress throughout the meeting and adapt to the schedule if needed. The more lead time we have, the better the decisions we can make. Every item should be 15 to 60 minutes in length. Shorter times increase overhead, and longer times defeat the purpose of having checkpoints.

  • Administrivia

Remember to either allocate time for setup of projectors, finding chairs, dialing into a conference call, etc. If possible, show up early to do this, if not, let people know that the first five minutes will be spent on setup, etc. When working on building relationships, this setup time can also be used for small-talk. It also allows late-comers a second-chance to not disrupt the meeting when they arrive.

Include the list of attendees, and when everyone doesn’t know everyone else, include a one-liner about each person’s role on the project. Not their title, or a family history, just a blurb explaining how they are involved in this project.

time

During the Meeting

With a well-planned meeting, the main benefits come from using the allocated time efficiently. Make sure the right people are present, and the wrong ones aren’t. Show that you respect people’s time and appreciate their investment in attending the meeting – start on time, plan to possibly extend the meeting a fixed amount of time, and schedule a followup meeting if you overrun your contingency.

Remember, your meeting has specific goals. Make sure you run the meeting with the express purpose of achieving them. And make sure they are concrete and explicit. When everyone is investing their time in the meeting, they deserve to have a tangible return on that investment.

  • Keep Topics Relevant to the Attendees

Keep a meeting topic focused, and only invite (on the “To:” line) the people who need to be there. You can use “CC:” to inform others about the meeting. Make sure that the invite specifies that “CC:” people are only being notified, and their attendance is neither required nor opposed. All “To:” people are expected to attend or be represented.

When topics need to vary, such as a status update (ala Scrum) on multiple related projects, organize the topics into different parts of the meeting, and invite people to attend specific portions of the meeting. Essentially, you’re running multiple meetings back to back in the same room. That’s ok. When people can avoid part of it, they will appreciate it.

  • Demonstrate Respect for People’s Time

It may be unreasonable to ask people to turn off their phones. At a minimum, turn yours off, visibly putting it on the table while doing the rest of the meeting setup. If there is a possibility that an urgent call may come in (you are expecting a baby, for example), let everyone know that you might have to take a call, and apologize in advance should that happen.

  • Administrivia

Meeting start, end, and break times should be published in advance to set expectations. Strive to honor them, but remember the reasons for the meeting in the first place. If the team is really accomplishing stuff, It doesn’t make sense to terminate the meeting at an arbitrary time just because it represents the end of the originally scheduled time. Include an extra 30 minutes at the end of the schedule as a contingency. If you think it might be worth it to use the contingency, get buyin from all of the attendees before running over – they may have other commitments. Regardless, they will appreciate that you are showing that you value their time.

If you use the contingency time and still haven’t achieved the goals of the meeting, agree to a continuation meeting to be scheduled immediately after the conclusion of the current meeting. Many people won’t have access to their schedules during the meeting, so don’t try and nail down an exact time while everyone is still in the room. Agreeing on a day (next Tuesday) and duration is sufficient.

  • Deliverables

Strive to make the results of the meeting concrete. Concensus building and decision making are both important, but specific items results should be tangible. By making sure goals are measureable, this is very easy.

breaking boards

After the Meeting

In karate, we’re taught to punch through the board, not into the board. Follow-through is important with meetings too. When we have a meeting with a worthwhile goal, and then execute that meeting efficiently, we’re only hitting the board. We have to follow-up the meeting to punch all the way through it.

Start with a wrap-up at the end of the meeting. In addition to being a valuable active-listening technique, this summary allows everyone to leave the meeting with a fresh idea of exactly what was accomplished, and a reminder of what they have agreed to do.

Write a summary of the meeting results – basically a written document of the verbal wrap-up. Do this immediately after the meeting, and send it to all of the meeting invitees.

Make sure and deliver everything you have committed to doing during the meeting.

  • Wrap-up

Always leave a short time at the end of the meeting to verbally summarize the decisions made in the meeting, confirm responsibility (and dates) for follow-up action items, and schedule the date of the next meeting (if needed).

As soon as possible after the meeting, send out meeting notes that document the responsibilities and major conclusions of the meeting. Make sure that all people originally invited to the meeting get this follow-up note (even if they did not attend), and include the information of who attended for future reference.

References

We were inspired or reminded of ideas by the following posts and their comment threads. Thanks to the authors and their readers!

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This article was published on Wednesday, July 5th, 2006 at 10:23 pm and is filed under Communication, Consulting, Project Management.
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5 Comments

  1. Thanks Chris, for reading and commenting!

    Also – the following comment came via email:

    For all of our design meetings at Blue Cross, we had a scribe keeping live notes at an easel pad. As each page filled, it was posted on the wall of the meeting room for instant referral. These notes were later transcribed and mailed to all interested parties along with a summary. Only rarely did we tape the meetings, but now with easy digital storage of the media, seems like another idea has come of age.

    Great idea. Alistair Cockburn suggests using videos as training/knowledge transfer/documentation on projects – could be really effective for those types of meetings.

  2. I’ve seen many of these suggestions preached over the years and I do believe they help with peer-to-peer meetings. However, how do you push this type of meeting preparation to your management? I see my company management use their administrative support to set-up meetings. Usually there is not agenda, just a subject line. I can’t blame the admin either, she isn’t responsible for creating the agendas!

    Any thoughts?

  3. Jeremy, thanks for reading and commenting – great question!

    Your point about peer-to-peer meetings is a really good one. I think these techniques are so effective at a peer level because it is easy for most of us to give and receive feedback, encouragement, and suggestions to and from our peers. The challenge is in giving this feedback to our managers.

    I’ve been lucky to have managers who either care enough about their employee’s time, or about their own time, to adopt many of these techniques. They actually created cultures that drove many of these meeting techniques.

    For managers who don’t have this approach, you need to find a way to suggest it to them – maybe print out this article, and highlight the tip you think is most effective. Then bounce the idea of your manager’s admin. See if you can convince her of the benefit – and ask her to ask her exec. for that extra piece of information to include in the invite.

    I’d start either with the goals, or the agenda.

    Another approach – if you get the opportunity to have any of your management attend any meetings that you organize, use the tips in this article, and then shortly after the meeting (and followup), ask the manager for some feedback on your efforts to improve your ability to run meetings. Go through some of the techniques you used, and ask him if he thinks they were working effectively for you. Don’t suggest that he should do it too – you’re going for the subtle approach with this one.

    Maybe some of our other readers have suggestions – please chime in and let Jeremy hear your ideas.

    Thanks again!

  4. Planning of time and effective time management is indeed an important aspect of day to day business deals & projects. However, its not that easy as it seems to be especially in large corporations where there are many time wasters. Yes, I agree before planning a meeting, the points mentioned should be decided as to effectively manage the meeting time.

4 Trackbacks

  1. By Make Your Meetings More Effective - lifehack.org on October 18, 2006 at 8:05 am

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  2. [...] Make Your Meetings 60% More Effective -Tyner Blain [...]

  3. [...] How to make meetings more effective? Today, i came upon a link about how to make meetings more effective – it is very good and it has some of the important points, which i always feel that a meeting should have. My company’s website also has a great course (FREE) on how to conduct great meetings – check it out if you can. [...]

  4. By internet marketing on March 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm

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