“The information technology revolution makes it possible to have more information go to more people more efficiently,” [Simo] Ramo says. “more people can now be informed on topics. Therefore, more people have ideas.” And that leads to longer discussion and … more meetings. It’s Not You, It’s Meetings, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 17,2012.
It’s Not You, It’s Meetings – No, It Is You!
The proliferation of meetings is almost always a symptom of a bigger problem. Too often the meeting is a solution thrown at problems of poor planning, poor communications, poor cooperation, poor … well, you get the idea. If we’ve had these problems for years, then we’ll have had excessive meetings, for years. No, it does not have to be this way.
The notion by Simo Ramo struck me at being at odds with my own experience. I often got the argument that because I pushed out so much project and organization information, often times it was the working data — before it was “done, done” — that people would be confused or would react to information that they didn’t need and we would get more meetings.
Unneeded Meetings Go Down As Information Sharing Goes Up
It just never seemed to work that way. Yes, I was pushing out information in large part to simply get people the information they needed (and often, I didn’t know who all needed what information so I made it available to everyone). This almost always reduced the number of meetings needed (teams and managers calling meetings) and when we did have a meeting, everyone was much more informed and on top of the issues.
Independent Problem Solving Goes Up As Information Sharing Goes Up
I always loved it when someone or a team I didn’t know much about (e.g., large projects, thousands of engineers across the world) reacted to my information and fixed or adjusted a plan or requirement without anyone having to tell them. I’ve run meetings, where I thought all was going well, only to discover that a team saw a problem based upon our updated status and had fixed it. They had worked through the weekend to make sure everything was on track. They had never said a thing to me as the project manager, just acted on the information, and then let me know, casually and with great pride in the meeting, that they had seen a major problem based upon our update and had fixed it. Wow.
Shared Information Should Be Complete, Comprehensive and Timely
Don’t get me wrong. Just pushing out random information will not make any kind of difference. It has to be the key information that we use to drive the project or organization. It has to be the plans, strategy, issues, metrics and details of what teams are doing and how they are progressing. It has to be the daily details and updated daily. You know, it has to be all that information that projects that are not doing well will inevitably hold back. It worked best when we were just brutally honest and exposed ourselves to everyone (security sometimes had problems with this approach, but that is another discussion).
Sharing Information Does Not Fix A Project That Was Poorly Planned
Of course, if we have poor plans, poor estimates, poor requirements, etc., then having good communications just exposes all these problems, and that indeed could increase the number of meetings. But again, the solution is to fix the underlying problems (getting good project estimates, for example, is almost a silver bullet for many problems) and then the meetings should settle down to a reasonable amount that contribute to progress.
For more see “It’s The Project Management Schedule, Stupid”
Meeting are a great and essential project management tool, but they are often overused as a solution to underlying organizational or project management problems. If our meetings appear out of control, focus on why we need so many meeting and solve those problems, rather than spending too much time fretting about all the meetings. Fix the underlying problems and the meetings will settle down to an appropriate tempo and then your meeting will become a project management tool that works.
What underlying problems are provoking excessive meetings in your project?