Project status meeting cop

I have been losing control of my project meetings lately. It’s with a new client and it’s a project I inherited in-flight, so I took over an existing weekly status meeting. Thus I have been a bit hesitant to exert control and employ my normal rigid meeting structure. I have recently listened to the 45-minute meeting podcast at Manager Tools was hoping to implement their suggestions, but it’s not happening.

The meeting consists of a couple engineers, senior management, and a couple sales/AM types. I use my typical format – task status, issues and risks, – and always have the associated documentation ready. Unfortunately, I don’t get even ten minutes in until the engineers take over, debating the technical ins and outs of a task and its inferred design parameters, or they realize there are technical details they haven’t thought of. And that’s it, the horses are out of the gate. One of the senior management representatives (my boss) is also very technical and always joins in the discourse.

I try to follow the on-the-fly engineering discussions so I can look for relevant information to capture and also to find a hook with which I can reel everyone back in, but the sales guy, account manager, and any other non-technical attendees check their smart phones, look at their watches, or take bio breaks. And the meeting slowly disintegrates. I try not exhibit the facial expressions that usually accompany my bristling and suffer in silence. It usually runs 15 minutes over into the lunch break and I rarely get to the issues and risk, at least in an organized manner.

I came across Andrew Makar’s “Three minutes to effective issue management” in his Tech Republic IT Consultant blog. He suggests employing a kitchen timer and give topics a three-minute time limit. I have heard similar advice many times before, but it really hits home now. I am probably too new in my tenure to risk offending the team by playing meeting cop, but here, I can let the timing device be the bad guy! You cannot argue with a clock, right? If you exceed the time limit, your topic goes to the “Parking Lot” for an offline, after-the-meeting conversation.

I am testing the stop watch application on my iPhone. I may just head over to Target and get a real kitchen timer too.

So this all sounds good in theory, but it also creates more items for the PM to track. The PM must ensure parties get together to discuss the digression topics. No easy answer, but at least maybe the project status meeting can be the project status meeting, not a de facto engineering breakout session.