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You are cheating your project management teams if you don’t periodically meet. Yes, I understand that little project work is actually done in project team meetings, and when I look around a room and mentally add up the hourly cost of those in attendance, I want to make sure that the time is well spent. Yet, there are some critical discussions that can only happen in project team meetings.

I remember some years back when I was doing some volunteer work for a local charity. There was a hot issue that arose during the dog days of summer, when the board wasn’t having regular monthly meetings. The executive director sent out an email that summarized the question rather effectively. And we tried to vote by email. I watched the board almost make a bad decision – because there was no conversation around the considerations at hand. There is simply no substitute for talking through complex issues. And that applies to projects and operations.

There is simply no substitute for talking through complex issues. And that applies to projects and operations. #smartprojex #projectmanagement Click To Tweet

Before I share my thoughts on what those critical project discussions are, let me reiterate my view that in most cases, project meetings should err on the side of structure. Agendas with defined time frames are helpful to everyone. Minutes can be an important record of what was accomplished.

From a teambuilding or project-planning standpoint, there may be times when teams should be allowed to brainstorm without constraints, but more often than not, constraints actually help focus a conversation.

What are those critical discussions that need to occur in project team meetings?

Save project time to identify and discuss risks.

As I’ve written about in a previous blog, the secret sauce behind risk management is spending time in meetings just thinking and brainstorming about risks. From my experience, people are really busy and they rarely stop what they are doing to just think. And yet, the process of identifying risks requires thought. Somehow, having people in a room, brainstorming about what is going on in a project, and where the problems are can uncover insightful observations on risks.

As I said above, structured meetings offer constraints that are helpful. Try time-boxing a conversation on project risks. Break the team in half (if the team is large enough) and give each group five minutes to come up with as many risks as they can. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but the best result is that you might uncover more risks this way. You can’t manage risks that you haven’t identified.

The secret sauce behind risk management is spending time in meetings just thinking and brainstorming about risks. People are really busy and they rarely stop what they are doing to just think. Yet, the process of identifying risks… Click To Tweet

Identify lessons learned.

Many, many project teams skip the step of identifying lessons learned. That’s such a mistake. There is no reason to spend money making the same mistakes over and over again. And yet, if teams don’t spend time identifying and documenting lessons learned in some usable format, they are doomed to repeating mistakes. Here again, this is one of those things that won’t likely happen unless you set aside time for it.

Review progress and celebrate accomplishments as a group.

Reviewing progress on outstanding work is a big part of what teams need to do in meetings. This is particularly true when you have a business project with a group of subject matter experts (SME) who have no real connections outside of the project.

Many business projects are unlike technology projects where teams work together side-by-side (figuratively or literally) for hours a day working on the same problems. In business projects, you can have SME’s moving in and out on the project and working on other things at the same time. That project meeting may be the only time that people who are working on the project ever connect. Don’t underestimate the importance of that connection and those conversations.

Success breeds success. People want to work on winning teams. Take time in your regular meetings to celebrate accomplishments. Help people feel good about the work that they have accomplished.

Identify problems as a group, but don’t try to solve them as a group.

Just as with risks, time spent in a group, simply thinking and brainstorming about a project, can uncover problems that can often not be uncovered in a vacuum. And yet, the team meeting is often not the right time or place to solve complex problems. Assign them to someone for further research and analysis.

Get commitments from people on the team.

Once a project is planned, it is often easy to figure out what activities should be done in the next time block. Use the team meeting to talk through the details on those upcoming activities and to get commitments from the people on the team. Review deadlines, responsibilities, activity constraints, risks, problems, or concerns. Try to ensure that there are no impediments that stand between the team and success.

What important conversations are your colleagues having in project team meetings? Comment below.

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