One could write a whole set of books on how to have (or not have) a great meeting… this post deals with a very specific and actionable way to improve your meetings. The rule is very simple. Write down the agenda on some visible surface that all participants can read and visibly mark off the items as you deal with. There are several reasons for this:
1. It forces you to have an agenda – nothing is worse than a meeting without a direction
2. It lets everyone know where they are in the meeting to minimize the rat-holes and circling discussions
3. It service as a group goal – every feels like they need to get through all items which again minimizes rat-holes.
And, of course the buts….
…But what if there is no agenda? If you get in a meeting with no agenda you have three choices.
(a) Step up and lead the process of creating the agenda
(b) Tune out and do email
It is an exercise for the reader to figure out when to do a vs b or c. But if you look around the room and you are the only PM, chances are you should do (a).
…But what if there is only one topic? Then list the sub-topics, or perspectives from which you will discuss the issue… My rule of thumb (very rough) is a 1 hour meeting need 3-5 topics.
…But what if we never get through all the items? If that is OK, then schedule fewer items, remember bar of the goal is to show progress that is defeated if you only ever get through item 1. If it is not OK, then ask for help in making it through all the items.. give a good reason why that is important.
..But what if you are using powerpoint? I’ll save the powerpoint overuse speech for a different day, but if powerpoint really is the best way to communicate be sure you are keeping everyone on the same slide and it is clear where the deck is going and where you are now in the deck.
..But what if we are reviewing a doc\spec? Consider using the spec itself as the agenda… project your version as you take notes so folks can see where you are at any given time. Don’t bounce around, move through the doc in an understandable way.
…But I have an agenda, do I really need to share it? Yes! You need to take the group along with you in the meeting.. they need to know at a glance what the topic is and what is next.. you audibly giving the agenda is not good enough.
..But what if new items come up during the course of the meeting? Great, add them to the agenda and keep going!