Sunday, August 19, 2007

Streamlining the Dreaded Weekly Project Meeting

Don’t you just hate them? You know what I’m talking about – those weekly project meetings that the entire team must attend and that last for hours, and in which about 10% of the content applies to you. You get dinged if you don’t attend and run the risk of missing that 10% that may be really important to you, but they kill an entire day.

A better model for large and complex projects is what I call “Discreet Communication & Decision.” In this model each core working group has its own committee and they meet once or twice a week as needed to manage the details of their particular project element. For example, a large corporate HQ construction project might have a committee for construction, one for technology, one for security, one for communication, one for relocation, etc.

The chairs of each committee together with key corporate sponsors form the project’s executive committee, which also meets as frequently as needed. This group is charged with communicating key project information among themselves and passing it down to their constituencies, identifying issues and making decisions or elevating them along with their recommendation. They also make priority calls to realign resources when needed. When run properly these, like all good meetings, are run to an agenda that participants have seen before the meeting and had a chance to develop their information for, have specific assignments, focus on good project and communication practices, and have a high accountability standard.

The advantage to this model is that meeting content is relative to those attending, information is condensed and shared with those who really need to know, and decisions flow much quicker.

I have seen this model used effectively on two large projects. The first was the relocation of a large electronics manufacturing company to a military base that was still active but transitioning to civilian ownership and use. The project’s executive committee was comprised of the COO and CFO, with committee chairs from Facilities, IT, Security, Manufacturing, Distribution, HR, and Legal. Each had their own sub-committees to chair which focused on the details of execution. In the second example, a large non-profit organization used this governance model for the renovation of an existing manufacturing facility, converting it to a large religious facility complete with a 3,000 seat auditoreum and state-of-the-art multi-media systems. This project had over 800 volunteers directly involved, but was effectively managed by a group of 15 individuals with one tie-breaker at the top.

This governance model works and it works well, but it needs some things in order to be successful. Strong executive mandate and participation, well articulated project goals and values, and consistency. Use this system well and those fifty people who have been sitting in the room for hours can be doing something really productive!

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