Review: Bad Meetings Happen to Good People

Bad Meetings Happen to Good People: How to run meetings that are effective, focused, and produce results, by Leigh Espy

Leigh Espy is a practicing IT project manager with over 15 years of experience, but she has also worked as a counselor to at-risk families and served in the Peace Corps. In addition, she coaches and writes about project management, leadership, and performance at ProjectBliss.net. From that background, Leigh has crafted a book that manages to both cover the basics and provide a detailed compendium of techniques and best practices.

The opening sections explain how to use the book and who can benefit from it, followed by the rhetorical question:  Do I really need to hold a meeting? Leigh describes some of the most common types of meetings and when they are appropriate.

Part 1: The Basics is quite a bit more than the name might imply. This part covers actions to be taken before, during and after the meeting. Preparation includes everything from establishing the purpose and selecting participants to creating and sharing an agenda and supporting documents. The sections on “during” cover best practices, such as ways to manage conflict, take notes, drive decisions, and identify action items. “After” begins with the wrap-up, followed by preparing and distributing meeting notes and action items and soliciting feedback.

Part 2: Boosting Your Impact is essentially a reference book. The first few sections describe meeting types, with the objective, recommended approach and common challenges. A number of sections address common behavioral and situational problems you may encounter and effective ways to address them. Leigh also goes into professional presence and communication skills, including cultural sensitivities. She closes with seven(!) alternative meeting room layouts and points to consider when selecting them.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Leigh writes clearly and succinctly and stresses positive outcomes even when explaining how to deal with obstacles. The result is a book that you’ll reach for several times a year, and recommend (or gift) to colleagues who struggle to keep their meetings effective.

Review: Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts

Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts: The definitive guide to jumpstart your project, by Sam Huffman

I’ve read several books on Microsoft Project and I even wrote one, but this is the first one I would recommend to a beginning project manager. Sam Huffman worked at Microsoft as a member of the Microsoft Project development and support team, so he’s widely considered to be one of the leading authorities on the product. He’s also a trainer, and this book reflects that experience.

Chapters One and Two describe the user interface, the hierarchy of calendars and how to configure and use them, and how to choose between manual and automatic scheduling. Chapter Three goes into best practices for organizing tasks and creating a task outline. Chapter Four explains task types and durations, followed by dependencies and sequencing tasks in Chapter Five. When working with junior project managers, I find that this is the place where they need the most guidance—Sam does a masterful job of explaining alternatives and best practices.

Chapter Six covers creating resources and assigning them to tasks. This is another place where MS Project can overwhelm the noob, and Sam’s guidance is excellent. Chapter Seven goes into the why and how of creating baselines, while Eight explains Tracking. This is an area where even experienced project managers don’t necessarily understand the alternatives or how to choose among them, and the level of detail is just right. Chapter Nine covers reporting, closing with three Appendices.  Appendix C is a simple checklist of steps to create and maintain a project file.

Highly recommended.

New from Elizabeth Harrin: The Meetings Template Kit

Elizabeth HarrinMost project managers will agree that meetings can be less than productive for their teams, as well as themselves. But there’s treatment available: Elizabeth Harrin’s “Meetings Template Kit” delivers a set of principles and tools for planning, conducting, and following up on efficient meetings. Five easily customized templates, a sample agenda, and a brief-but-thorough e-book, written in Elizabeth’s personable but professional style. Like a good meeting: quick, effective, and to the point.

Elizabeth, who blogs at “A Girl’s Guide to ProjectManagement,” is one of the most highly respected thought leaders in project management. Not because she is out testing the new frontiers, but because she writes about what we’re doing (or should be doing), right now. Her books, articles, and conference presentations are practical, immediately applicable, and as they say in the UK, spot on.

Highly recommended.