Like a pump at a water station, you--the consultant leading a project--are the one who has to keep everything moving. Follow these guidelines to ensure that your team's project flows smoothly.
One of the most valuable tools you have as a project manager is a weekly project status meeting. I approach any significant project by holding weekly project updates. These status meetings help:
- The new project members develop as a team.
- Me, as the project manager, identify weaknesses early enough to make corrections.
- Me, as the project manager, reinforce key points and provide early coaching.
An astute project manager uses a status meeting to go beyond simply learning about how the project is progressing. A good project manager already knows that before the meeting. The meeting is actually a tool to help the project manager move the project along and coach team members on key issues that can affect deliverables. I’ve found success with several simple tools and approaches in my work as a consultant.
To be an effective project manager, prepare for every project status meeting by checking with each of your key project team members before the meeting. If you’re managing the project correctly, you’re in close contact with team members throughout the week, and there should be no surprises during the project status meeting. Surprises can undermine your ability to manage the project and cause team members to lose confidence in you.
I prepare in several ways:
- Detail project review: I walk through each of the tasks due to be completed within the next two to four weeks to determine the status of each. If I don’t know, I find out, especially if it is a critical part of the project and affects other tasks. A detail walk-through will always generate questions or provide insight on the project’s pressure points that you’ll need to cover in the status meeting.
- Identify the bottlenecks: Part of my role is to be able to identify the project’s bottlenecks and develop options to eliminate them. Remember that when you clear a bottleneck, other issues will become the project’s new bottlenecks.
- Prepare a list of key points: I go into the meeting with a list of key points to discuss with the entire team or an individual. Lead by example. Your preparedness transfers over to the team and will reinforce the need for each member to be prepared for status meetings.
Schedule your status meeting for no longer than one hour. You can host separate sessions for specific issues apart from the entire team meeting. Always be conscious of how you’re spending other people’s time. All team members do not need to be involved in every aspect of the project.
Develop a standard meeting agenda
People are always evaluating any leader’s performance in organization, insight, understanding, action, decisiveness, thought processes, and leadership. Team members watch what’s going on closely and take it to heart more than we think they do.
Following my standard Project Kickoff Meeting, which sets the initial tone and establishes an immediate sense of organization, I use a standard status meeting agenda to reinforce organization and to give me ample opportunity to highlight important issues.
Consider these approaches when working with each agenda item.
Let everyone know who is in attendance before starting. This is important for remote team members who have dialed in and will save you time later.
New business issues
You may have learned something during the week that affects the project. Share the news early in the meeting to help team members consider the issue as you walk through the project plan status session. Not every issue warrants spending time here, so keep discussions to a minimum.
Project plan status review
Walk through your project plan and allow each team member to provide a brief status of assignments due this week and tasks planned for the next two weeks. You want to know whether tasks are on track or if any will miss the projected deadline. You also want to allow the team member to share any special considerations that might affect other tasks or members of the project. Carefully manage this part because some team members will want to pontificate and spend more time than is really needed. Remember, you’re the project manager.
Upon completing the project status review session, summarize the critical items. This lets you reinforce the importance of focus members who have tasks associated with critical issues. It also gives you an opportunity to discuss possible options to help support team members and ensure the tasks are completed on schedule.
Q&A and discussion time
Always give your project team time to ask questions on issues that were not discussed. This gives you another opportunity to reinforce key points that you have picked up during the week’s activities or that you discovered during the meeting. One of the strongest qualities of successful project managers is the ability to anticipate and know where the “fires” lie when they see “smoke” in project issues.
Summary and follow-up items
Always wrap up with a project status summary and a list of action items identified in the meeting to help move the project along.
Conclude the meeting with upbeat statements and positive input on project accomplishments. Always reinforce teamwork and encourage every member to watch out for one another to ensure the project is successful.
Follow every meeting with correspondence
I follow up each meeting with a quick correspondence that reviews important points of the status meeting and lists specific action items that were identified to support the project. For an example from a systems conversion project I handled, see Figure A.
Consider these key points when you’re planning and holding your project status meetings:
- Start meetings on time.
- Know where the project pressure points are.
- Always know where the current bottlenecks are and how to clear them.
- If comments in the meeting indicate “smoke,” it usually means there’s fire.
- Use status meetings to help reinforce accountability.
- Critique the team as a whole. Reinforce individual team members in the meeting, but critique individuals in separate sessions.
- Keep meetings to one hour or less.
- Use separate sessions to solve big issues.
- Be aware of the team’s productivity and time. Cover issues that aren’t important for the entire team in separate sessions with those who need to be involved.
I’ve been surprised to discover years after a project that former employees picked up something in one of my project meetings that helped in their career. Remember that people watch how project managers lead projects closely, and your leadership affects the work and success of the team. Prepare accordingly, and you can establish an environment in which your entire project will be a success.
Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an Atlanta IT management training and consulting company. Take a closer look at Mike’s management insight from more than 20 years as a CIO in his IT Manager Development Series.