By Joe Wynne

How many times have you needed a group decision to be made in order to remain on schedule, only to be frustrated when something went wrong after the stakeholders met to make the decision?

Maybe a key person was not there. Maybe an issue came up that derailed the process. Maybe someone needed more information at the last minute prior to voting. This scenario can be embarrassing and detrimental to your project and career.

Take your cue from hospital staff. Patients in critical condition are often placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where nurses monitor the patients much more closely and take additional preventive measures. You should do the same with critical decision-making meetings to avoid a horrible fate for your patientŸum, project.

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Critical decision-making meetings defined
Critical decision-making meetings are those meetings that produce decisions, votes, or agreements that are necessary to keep the progress of a project on schedule. Common types of critical decision meetings involve the following:

  • Getting customer sign-off on a deliverable
  • Approving a new process
  • Approving a major change in a process
  • Getting requirements documentation approved
  • Evaluating quality assurance at an intermediate project point

For these critical meetings, you must follow an intensive treatment regimen or you may be facing a Code Blue situation.

Intensive care meeting checklist
Schedule meeting
Contact all expected participants to get availability times. Obtain two or three good meeting times from each participant for the meeting duration you anticipate. If you have a culture where participants miss meetings often and without much notice, get agreement on an alternate meeting date. Reserve the correct type of meeting room, one with a round table or where everyone can see each other.

Announce meeting
Send out a preliminary announcement of date and times. You can even include a draft agenda for comments. Explain that a pre-meeting package will be sent to all participants, who are expected to read the material beforehand to help expedite the meeting.

Analyze participants
List all participants. Decide which ones are critical to the decision. These are the CPs, or Critical Participants. Critical participants may be sponsors, stakeholders, department leaders, or anyone else who must be there for the decision to be valid.

If they are not available, then the meeting cannot proceed with any finality. For every CP, list what information they need to make the decision. Also note their meeting style. Are they aggressive, passive, talkative, confrontational, collaborative, secretive, awkward, or polite? This information will help you prepare so you will get the decision during the meeting.

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Send out a meeting preparation package
This is your big preventive treatment strategy. You want to completely brief everyone prior to meeting, at least 10 days ahead. Avoid wasting time with activities that do not require everyone to be present. Also, try to eliminate any reason a CP may have for avoiding making the decision. The following checklist may be helpful as you prepare your pre-meeting package:

  • Clarify decisions to be made.
  • Provide facts needed by participants, a summary, items that are exceptions, operational data, and background information.
  • Provide background/context (process, history).
  • Relate decisions to project success.
  • Provide support reading, based on participant needs as defined in the participant analysis. Describe what the reading adds to the preparation, so that those who do not need to read it will not waste time studying support material.
  • Provide detailed agenda.
  • List meeting rules.
  • List participants.

Sure, this meeting preparation package may take some time to produce, but the benefits to the patient are worth it. This treatment regimen inoculates your meeting from a host of ills.

Make pre-meeting contacts
Now is the time to “check the charts” so there won’t be any surprise symptoms during the meeting. Check CP availability again.

When it’s closer to the meeting date, they will have a better grip on their schedule. Ask if they agree with the agenda. Find out if they have problems or issues that could force the meeting off course and discuss these issues prior to the meeting. Determine if they have read the prep package and if they need additional information.

Make sure there are no surprises, so that you will be in control.

Follow your agenda
Participants will know you mean business when you stick to the agenda.

Follow up correctly
Thank participants for their assistance, connecting it to the organizational benefits of the decision. In case all decisions cannot be reached, create an action list in the format of “Who Does What by When.” Apprise participants of the consequences of not completing action items as described.

The busier workplace means that planning critical decision-making meetings is more important than ever. Get timely agreements and respect from coworkers by treating this type of meeting aggressively, like an intensive care patient, and avoiding a meeting that is dead on arrival.

This article was originally published on gantthead on March 19, 2001

Joe Wynne is the subject matter expert for gantthead’s Workforce Management department.

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