The Meeting Agenda as Project Manager’s Ally


In her Agile handbook classic, Collaboration Explained, Jean Tabaka relates an anecdote of consulting for a client who placed a sign above each meeting room entrance: “If you have not received a purpose and agenda for this meeting, please turn around and return to your desk.”[1]  This is a severe, but effective reminder that we, as project managers must be good stewards of our team’s time and attention as these resources are non-renewable. [2] In too many organizations, unplanned, poorly organized and seemingly interminable project meetings are a real threat to productivity and team harmony.

Many high performing companies are adopting rules around when and how meetings are scheduled to avoid extended meetings and disruptions in creativity.  Such an example is the “Greater than 2, Less than 30” practice (>2/ <30), which dictates that meetings shall be held only after 2PM and be less than 30 min in duration.   The idea is that the most productive morning hours are devoted to high priority tasks, where attention, focus and creativity are called upon.  Exempt from these rules, of course, are one-on-one collaborative working meetings, “drive-by” meetings, in-depth project reviews and international calls which may not fit into the >2 model.

When done right, however, meetings are good opportunity to connect with your team, build consensus and track a project’s progress. Every meeting should have two documents to serve as bookends: the agenda and the minutes.  Having an agenda greatly facilitates the execution of meetings will help you reach a target of <30 minutes in duration. The experts at Bain & Company suggest that the most productive companies spend less time in meetings. [3] When necessary, attention is given to careful meeting management through the agenda to drive decisions and exploit the best use of management’s time.  Here are three points to help inspire your next project meeting agenda.

Having an Agenda Shows You Mean Business

Your agenda sets the purpose of the assembly and outlines expectations. When you’ve prepared an agenda, you show that you’ve considered the meeting topics and given some thought to the structure.  Rather than “just winging it”, you’ve contemplated the allotted time and structured the topics to fit within that window. Your team will appreciate the respect you have for their time by doing the legwork to prepare in advance. Creating the agenda also allows you to serve as the leader and set the tone of the meeting.

The Agenda Sets Purpose of the Meeting

This may seem obvious, but each meeting should have a purpose and stick to it. Staff meetings, brainstorming, release planning and working meetings are just a few categories. For best time management, you’ll want to keep focus on the purpose. Having this clearly defined at the outset will  calibrate the team to this target. As a project leader, I typically have a weekly or bi-weekly project review with all functional management heads.  The purpose is clear: provide brief update on each of the areas since last meeting, with a focus on risks and requests for support.  This is a forum to share progress and identify if a risk in one area of the project has an opportunity to impact another area.

The Agenda as a Meeting Management Tool

I must admit, I am a nervous presenter and have always had difficulty with extemporaneous speaking. Having a well-defined agenda helps me feel more confident leading a meeting.  The formal documentation of the meeting through the minutes – the follow-up to the meeting- is critical to capture what was discussed and agreed to.  It is also a record of decisions taken and part of the project documentation. I suggest including in the agenda and minutes a “parking lot” – an area to capture good ideas for future implementation or for decisions which are not ready to be taken. A well-organized agenda can be easily transformed to capture the meeting summary minutes.  The summary can then serve as the basis agenda for the following meeting, etc.

About our Template

https://freeprojectmanagementtemplates.com/ provides free resources for the small business or those looking to build a Project Management Office from scratch.  However, if your firm is using MS Teams, then you have access to a built-in agenda creator which includes the same general elements as we have in our old-fashioned, word copy. [4]

Our template includes a list of all team members, contact numbers and emails. This list discussion ensures that the team can contact one another between meetings.  It is especially important to present the team when working with external vendors or engaging teams from a different division. Having all names and dial-in information demonstrates your preparedness.  The check box can be easily added to transform your agenda to meeting minutes.

Figure 1: Project Meeting Agenda Template

The formatted structure organizes the main topics and subtopics to help streamline the workflow. Finally, all important resolutions and and outcomes of your meeting should appear in Key Decisions.

Figure 2: Project Meeting Agenda Template Body

In Conclusion

Spending the time upfront to create meeting structure through the agenda will pay dividends with shorter meetings, more prepared and engaged participants and high productivity.  We hope you find great use of the meeting agenda template (found here: https://freeprojectmanagementtemplates.com/all-templates/) to assist in your meeting management and project success.

References:

  1. Tabaka, Jean. Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders. Addison-Wesley, 2006
  2. Tim Ferriss discusses this idea in some depth in his book, The Four Hour Work Week https://fourhourworkweek.com/
  3. https://hbr.org/2004/09/stop-wasting-valuable-time
  4. https://support.meetingdecisions.com/create-your-first-meeting-agenda-in-teams
  5. https://freeprojectmanagementtemplates.com/all-templates/

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