The following methodology is not the fruit of my labour. I learned this method in a workshop a few years ago, and I witnessed myself its effectiveness. I am just sharing some knowledge.
“Walk out of a meeting if it lasts more than 30 minutes.” (S. Jobs)
A short e-mail, a quick phone call, a brief IM chat are usually good ways to discuss topics, exchange information or tackle issues. However, sometimes a meeting is the most efficient way to set clear action points and get an explicit commitment from all the stakeholders involved in the same project – and check the status of the same tasks afterwards.
However, when is a meeting needed? There are meetings and meetings. Some of them are simply part of the communication plan agreed within a project, and as such, they are mostly recurring appointments. Other meetings take place because of specific needs, unplanned necessities that would otherwise end up in a long chain of verbose emails, where everybody has his word, (almost) nobody takes real commitment, nor any deadlines are set.
On the other side of the coin, a meeting not properly managed could become just a total waste of time. That is the reason the attendees often perceive meetings as interminable events where many ideas emerge, a few of them are seriously discussed, and almost none of them sees the light of day.
It does not sound like something that the project could benefit from, does it?
To get the most from a meeting I usually stick to the PCFW method. It is an acronym that stands for:
Prepare your meeting
You do not just “improvise” a meeting. For starters, you need to outline the purpose of the meeting, the reasons that led you to arrange it: it must be clear to you so that you can make it clear to everybody attending. Understanding who you should involve is of the essence, as well as identifying who could provide the proper inputs and who are the decision-makers on the matter. Ultimately, take a few minutes to list everything you need for the meeting (conference call number, room, documents).
The second important step is talking to people: invite them to the meeting with adequate notice, share the detailed agenda with them, let them prepare for what they are responsible for. If this is the follow up from a previous meeting, you might want to check the status of the agreed action points first.
There is one first rule, stay on topic. Some of the attendees might attempt to digress into different topics. Keep the lead, politely stop any debates – they are hardly necessary for a meeting, and this is not a workshop – and ensure that the discussion sticks to the topics and the timing set on the agenda.
Please note: to stay on-topic does not mean to ignore anything that is not on the agenda. Do not drop new emerging subjects, just log them in the parking log. You will talk about them in a separate meeting. Write them down and address them according to their priority.
Once you have gone through all the topic, it is time, by all means, to wrap it up. Quickly list the action points agreed during the discussion specifying the owner and possibly fix a date for the following meeting. It must be clear that in the next meeting you will verify the status of the approved actions.
Do not forget to send the meeting minutes. They must state clearly what you expect to happen, who is responsible for it to happen, by when you expect it to happen.