9 Common Pitfalls to Project Management Meetings and How to Avoid Them

Superstar leaders recognize Project Management Meetings as some of the greatest opportunities available for collaboration and getting important things done.  Well-executed, these meetings help ensure the project’s risks are known and addressed, schedule and costs are being controlled, goals are being met, and potential new opportunities are recognized.

Unfortunately, all too many leaders squander these opportunities by conducting poorly run, unorganized and unproductive sessions.  Participants are left scratching their heads and wondering why they were called in the first place.

How do you run project management meetings that actually add value?  Here are 9 common pitfalls and how to avoid them:

1 – They Lack a Consistent Agenda Structure

To adequately prepare, know what you want to accomplish and how best to achieve it.  How will you run the meeting?  For project management meetings, ProjectManager suggests the same 7-step process each time:  Apologies (who is and isn’t in attendance), Actions from Last Meeting, Status Updates, Risks and Issues, Budget Review, Other Business, and Next Meeting.

2 – Poor People Planning

Another preparation consideration is the list of attendees.  Who do you really need to attend?  “One huge time waster is making the case for a certain course of action when the decision maker is not in the room,” notes Eva Rykrsmith on The Fast Track.  “If the team needs a decision or approval before further action can be taken, call the meeting short, get the approval, and then get together again.”

Location is another factor for who attends.  If you have a far-flung team, your meeting time might not be within normal working hours for everyone.  cPrime suggests “With regular meetings, you can alternate meeting times, so that you aren’t always asking the same people to alter their work schedules for your meeting.”  You might turn friends into enemies by waking them at 3 in the morning, especially if their participation isn’t really necessary.  Choose your participants wisely.

3 – Vague Expectations 

The final preparation item is to lay out the plan for others.  Set specific expectations in the agenda.  Instead of a general or vague topic like “cost and schedule,” zero in on the desired outcome, like “develop three alternatives for the current task layout to present to the customer,” as suggested by Scarlett Consulting.

4 – Improperly Working Technology

Conducting a successful meeting often requires technology, and many meetings fail because of it.  If you’re using technology for the meeting, take the time to test it before the meeting starts.  This is especially important for teleconferences.  Remote participants need to be able to hear EVERYTHING clearly.  Poor equipment or positioning might mean they can’t hear anything, so it’s wise to perform sound checks.

5 – Failure to Acknowledge all Participants

An important factor when conducting the meeting is to make sure everyone knows everyone else.  Having a diverse team with a wide array of expertise offers a lot of value to your project, but not if the participants don’t talk to each other!  Introduce everyone if there’s any chance of a less-known participant being involved.  This is particularly important when team members represent multiple companies or are attending by web or teleconference.

6 – Lack of Productive Ground Rules 

You’ll find it much easier to conduct your meeting if you lay out expectations early.  Both before the meeting (in the agenda) and at its onset, remind everyone of the ground rules.  If using teleconference or virtual contact, specify the ways participants can help manage the challenges.  For example, as Monster suggests, phone participants should introduce themselves every time:  “Before you speak, remember that some people may not recognize your voice.  Even if you think, ‘Everyone knows me,’ always begin with ‘This is Laura,’ and then speak.  When you pick up the conversation again, repeat, ‘This is Laura again.’”  This will prevent people from having to guess who is speaking and help record keeping.  Another rule to remind participants of is to use mute when not speaking.

Additionally, this is a good time to get buy-in that everyone will stay on topic.  Have a plan for dealing with items outside the focus, like a “parking lot,” and ask for everyone’s agreement to relegate non-agenda items to the parking lot to be addressed later.

7 – Wishy-Washy Leadership

Perhaps the most important aspect of conducting your meeting is to embrace your role as the leader.  It’s nice to be egalitarian and share power, but it ensures nothing is accomplished.  Without a facilitator, the topic might wander like a lost puppy.  Participants will appreciate not having their time wasted, and the only way to do that is to meet the meeting goals.  Just because you normally have a slide for something doesn’t mean it actually needs to be presented for this meeting.  Carve out the content you need with your goal in mind.

Being a good meeting leader also means ensuring group interactions don’t get out of hand and that those joining remotely feel included and connected.

8 – Meeting Breaks up without a Wrap up

Wrap-up the meeting by summarizing the action items (and track progress afterward).  Remind everyone of when the next meeting is and its goals.

9 – There’s no Plan to Improve

Even when you’re done, you’re not quite done.  Like everything else about your project, your project management meetings should be analyzed for their efficiency and efficacy.  One of Fast Company’s noted seven sins is “Meetings never get better.  People make the same mistakes.”  Their salvation?  “Practice makes perfect.  Monitor what works and what doesn’t and hold people accountable.”

What’s one pitfall or tip that you’d like to share in the comments about project management meetings?


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