A recent online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of work-execution software provider Clarizen found that only 30% of U.S. IT workers feel that status meetings help them accomplish their work tasks. When I mentioned this survey last Sunday evening in my weekly “New PM Articles” post, I asked the rhetorical question, how do we convince the other 70% to come, anyway? Also from the survey: almost 40% believe status meetings are a waste of time. Can that large a fraction of the population be completely wrong?
One thing I’ve figured out, after attending a few thousand status meetings: if people aren’t engaged, they will multi-task. This is especially true if they are dialed in, but the advent of smart phones has made physical presence and attention absence a common correlation. This is less a reflection of our growing workload than our growing willingness to make our own decisions about how to spend our time. If someone seems to be wasting our time, we will quickly and unapologetically turn our attention elsewhere. It’s not ADD – your performance has been reviewed, and found lacking.
So, why do we have status meetings, anyway? To track and report on the status of the work under way and the project as a whole? To share information? To identify and solve problems? I would suggest that the 30% that feel status meetings are helpful have a very specific goal for their attendance, and the other 70% do not. If we want to increase that 30% in time for the next survey, we’re going to need a way to set people’s expectations, and then help them meet them.
I never cease to be amazed at the number of project meetings that consist of a PM droning on for some extended period, interrupted only occasionally by someone seeking to challenge a statement or respond to a question. A monologue is not a meeting, of any kind – put it in an Email! Neither is a dialogue – if two people are talking only to each other, while the rest of the attendees fidget uncomfortably, it could have been better handled as a conversation. Real meetings are collaborative. Maybe you prefer show-and-tell, where everyone gets a chance to talk about what they’ve completed, what they expect to complete, and what blocking issues they’ve discovered (the daily stand-up, for you Scrum folks). Maybe you like to circulate a document before the meeting and then meet only to discuss exceptions, ask questions, or share comments. Either way, a Good status meeting engages all of the participants.
I will argue that Good status meetings are brief, allow the team to share information, and help the team to bond. No one reads a document to the team at Good status meetings; rather, they are sent out in advance, and the team discusses and “group edits” them. Good status meetings reduce the number of surprises the team will encounter. Good status meetings are about the needs of the team. Bad status meetings are the antithesis of Good status meetings. I will argue that the 40% who believe status meetings are a waste of time are mostly sitting in Bad status meetings, and the 30% who feel they are helpful are mostly sitting in Good status meetings. And I will suggest that teams that tolerate Bad status meetings will get to sit in a lot of them.