If you’re like most managers, you live in meetings most of which are run poorly. No clear agenda. No actions items with due dates. No accountability. Just open discussion with some attendees who really don’t need to be there but may lob “grenades” into the meeting to get attention. Sound familiar? There is a better way. Some of our clients have modeled this exceptionally well in PMO or “program management office” meetings. The PMO model can be applied to any cross-functional project or program from marketing campaigns to product development to executive sessions. Here are seven practices we’ve found ensure great meeting outcomes:
Establish and maintain a clear purpose. People meet for a variety of reasons – to disseminate key information, make decisions, assign resources, solve problems, mitigate risks, brainstorm possibilities, etc. Whatever the reason is for your PMO meeting, we strongly recommend you remind people every single time you meet. That’s right. Every time. This practice prevents newcomers from hijacking or disrupting your meeting, and sets the boundaries for the topics under discussion.
Establish roles and minimal attendees. Most meetings have too many players. We recommend the “RACI” model with “Responsible” player being the one who owns a function or key initiative being covered. “Approver” is usually a director, VP or C-level executive who approves what the Responsible player recommends. The “Contributor” offers necessary input into any action or decision to be made. And “Informed” are the ones who just need to be told the final outcome. We recommend at the most 7-8 players in a meeting.
Move deeper discussion offline: you’ve all experienced meetings where someone brings up a topic that becomes a “rat hole” in which the team attempts to solve a problem as a group. It might be a very valid topic worthy of deliberation but certainly not by the broader PMO team. The better approach is to interrupt after about 3 minutes (use a 3-minute “hour glass” like timer) and clearly articulate the problem statement or item needing deeper discussion. Call it a “parking lot” item for now. Use RACI to clarify who must participate in that topic, assign a deadline, and have the Responsible person report back no later than the next PMO meeting.
Surface risks to mitigate them: the practices above may feel like a “checkbox” approach to project/program management meeting which may inadvertently discourage quality discussion. Moving discussions offline must not come across as squelching the team’s valid concerns. We recommend the leader go around the table asking each person to speak up on a risk they see that requires a mitigation plan. Ask for their recommendation too.
Use a consistent reporting format: a project/program management type meeting is specifically meant to detect and manage risks so that the team can achieve the committed goals on time, on budget. We recommend a dashboard with red, yellow, or green status indicators for each key tactic. Have measurable criteria to determine these conditions. Items that are yellow or red should require the Responsible person to explain why the item is this color, what the plan is to get the item to green, and what help they are requesting of the team. The best PMO leaders will work ahead of the meeting to find out which item is turning yellow/red and coach that responsible owner to work diligently to manage the risk.
Be a strong, disciplined facilitator: first off, have a leader for the meeting! Ever been in a meeting where there’s an awkward silence as everyone is trying to figure out who is running the meeting? An effective meeting requires both team cooperation and a strong leader. It’s helpful upfront to tell the team you might have to cut discussions short, note the item for “parking lot”, and setup an offline meeting, if needed. The team also needs to support the leader by staying on topic, and being clear on when an item needs discussion offline.
Use a good web-based tool like Wrike or Jira: the PMO meeting is just part of a broader process such as product development, product launch, marketing campaigns, strategic planning, etc. Tools like Wrike and Jira offer powerful yet easy to use ways of tracking action items, owners, due dates, and dependencies. They also facilitate team collaboration in between meetings with threaded discussions.
We have many more tips to offer you but these are the top seven tips. What practices have you found that are particularly useful?