Developed by Julie Laursen
A meeting is a formal or informal event where individuals meet either face-to-face or virtually (by the use of audio or video conference tools). In projects, groups of people need to discuss, align, inform and to communicate for other reasons, hence there exists numerous purposes and needs for meetings. They are essential for collaboration and decision making in projects and they revolve around key project management activities such as cost, scheduling, and quality.
Research reveals that even though managers spend more than 50% of their time in meetings, many meetings fail and cause big, unnecessary costs on wasted time. Project managers often need to not only participate in meetings frequently but also plan, facilitate and evaluate meetings throughout the project's entire life cycle and especially during the execution phase, when project resources most often peak in numbers and cost. Project managers can use their responsibility as an opportunity to implement strategies for creating and managing effective meetings.
The purpose of this article is to provide strategies in the form of guidelines for project managers to consider and implement in projects. In order to develop an in-depth understanding of the challenges and how to avoid them, this article builds on state-of-the-art research and studies on meetings from leading universities. It also relies on standards on project management from Project Management Institute's "A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge". 
The key benefit for a project manager planning an approach to meetings is that it helps to identify how to communicate most effectively and efficiently, both internal in the project team and with stakeholders. Developing a strategy for meetings can save the project time and costs and on same time keep project team members motivated.
Too many meetings fail
“Meetings are often unnecessary or badly run” claims the authors of “Kill bad meetings”. They support this statement with research from scientific studies and industry research conducted by the authors themselves.
Unnecessary meetings: they’ve found that up to half of the content in meetings is not relevant to participants or could be delivered in other, more simple ways.
Badly run meetings: many meetings that need to happen fails to deliver outcome effectively and do not encourage participation.
When investigating the relevance of this statement, examples from other sources show similar results:
- In a study made by Microsoft 69% of the 38.000 participants felt meetings weren't productive. 60% said they didn't have work-life balance, and the feeling of being unproductive contributed to this
- People spend an average of 2 days per week in meetings, and 50% of it is a waste of time
- Too many meetings is the #1 waste of time at the office, with 47% of votes, up from #3 in 2008
The last example points towards that either the quality of meetings worsens, or that the amount of meetings increases. In the study "Collaborative Overload" claims the authors that over the last 20 years, the time spent by people in collaborative activities (meetings, calls, emails etc.) was increased by 50% or more. 
There are many effects of bad meetings. They turn into barrages in projects:
- Meetings are huge costs in projects.
Example: a managerial/professional person in Europe or in the USA costs around $100,000 to employ in 2017. $40,000 of this is spent directly on attending meetings. Preparation for meetings is not included in this. In addition, time spent in meetings is also time not spent on individual work. Many meetings and interruptions during a day can postpone important tasks for an individual and prolong tasks' delivery time.
- People attending meetings perceived as ineffective are affected at the end of the workday and similarly, it affects their overall job satisfaction. Employees feel stressed, dissatisfied with their jobs and the study reveals that they are more likely to leave their job.
These two reasons can become big challenges for a project manager. Reaching overall goals: deliver projects on time and under budget within the scope is threatened and the risk increases when there is no control.
Causes for bad meetings vary, but causes include:
- In many project organizations, the whole field of “meetings” is unmanaged.
Who calls, run and attend meetings and how often, is often not agreed.
- Unmanaged meetings generate unmanaged costs.
In the example stated above, more than 40% of one resource’s cost and time is spent on meetings. This leaves less than 60% time to manage/work individually on a project.
- Today, projects are becoming more complex within product and service development. Higher complexity needs people with different specialties and large project organizations. This can generate more unmanaged meetings. 
Project life cycle phases
Splitting up a project into phases allows project management to plan and control progress throughout a project's life cycle. The partition of a project shows when the load is highest and when it is reasonable to prepare the strategy, in order to succeed in managing meetings.
A project manager will facilitate meetings throughout the entire project. Some meetings such as a project status meeting or a budget meeting recur from beginning to end of the life cycle. Other meetings are only relevant in one phase and some happen once.
In order to prepare for meetings and assess impact, the manager identifies current challenges in one phase in relation to achieving the overall project goal. A useful method for this is to identify project phases.
A project phase consists of related project activities sharing a goal. Completing activities will strive towards reaching the goal and entering next project phase. Sometimes, project phases occur iteratively. In some cases, new findings occur during execution, which demands project teams to make changes in scope and revisit the planning phase. There is no one-size-fits-all model to describe project phases in every project. Projects are unique, and various industries use various project models. However, most projects go through following four phases with related project management activities: 
- definition of new project or new start of existing project
- initial scope and finances
- identification of stakeholders that influence overall outcome and project manager
- project charter or mission statement including business case approval completes this phase
- refinement of scope and objectives
- project (core) team establishment
- project management plan and time schedule
- creation of shared documents and platforms within project including: scope, time, cost, quality, communication, stakeholder engagement, risks, procurement, human resources
- research and gathering of important information related to project
- other project participants might be discovered
- performance of work defined in plan from the previous phase unless severe changes occur. In this case, there is a need to iterate and revisit the planning phase.
- coordination of people and resources, stakeholder expectations management, the performance of activities in accordance with the plan.
Results requiring updates and needing to revisiting planning phase include activities' duration, pricing, unanticipated risks.
- Completion of a project includes:
- closing contracts
- archive data
- closeout procurement
- evaluate and note learnings and reviews.
Project activities in phases
Figure 2 shows a generic, high-level view of how the cost and staffing level develop during the project's life cycle. Cost and staffing level are low at the start, increase when the project is carried out and decrease fast in the closing phase. 
This indicates that throughout the whole execution phase, knowing how to structure time is of high importance since there are many people involved and costs are at the highest. Creating structure and a plan for meeting management early in the project (prior to execution) helps to maintain focus and efficiency when costs are high.
Successful communication in a project underpins accurate message deliveries, sufficient communication to stakeholders, a higher level of employee involvement and the ultimate success of any project.
In most projects, communication planning occurs early in the planning phase and can be included in the project management plan. This allows the manager to appropriately consider resources, such as time and costs in communication activities.
Listed below are suggestions for meeting strategies for the project manager to consider. To each suggestion belongs a primarily relevant project phase. The research relies on several scientific studies providing different knowledge-based methods and guidelines.
Avoiding unnecessary meetings with effective communication
In projects, effective communication is when information is provided in the right format, at the right time, to the right audience, and with the right impact.  Setting up guidelines in projects for when it is acceptable to call a meeting is one way to avoid unnecessary meetings that do not create value. Indicators for when a meeting is needed are listed here:
- when unresolved issues are inhibiting the progress of a project or interdependent projects
- decision making
- idea generation
- distribution of a compelling agenda prior to the meeting
- celebration of reaching a milestone
In other cases, there exists a need for communication, but not in a meeting. This can often be identified as the type of communication where only one person needs to speak. Examples are:
- delivery of information
All the above can often be delivered in an email, via a phone call or in an informal meeting with only two people. In some cases, information is in existing repositories (reports/internal knowledge sharing portals). When a person chooses to invite other(s) to a meeting to deliver information which they could have found themselves, the meeting becomes costly, misused time for all involved. This is an example of one bad effect when meetings aren’t managed.
In some projects, meeting free days are introduced where participants have to reject meetings occurring on their meeting free day. In other projects, it is allowed for participants to select among which meetings to attend. When selecting, using a small checklist similar to the table below, helps to understand what to look for.
|Meetings to attend||Meetings to decline|
|Live interaction required for topic to succeed||No clear outcome stated in advance|
|Your expertise needs to be shared to make decision||Matters have low relevance|
|Negotiation, resolve conflicts||Objective would be delivered better other ways|
|Building relationships||Wrong people are attending|
This mindset towards meetings will work most efficiently when implemented at the very beginning, the initiation phase. The project manager can use all tools him/herself and share the mindset with the rest of the core group to create a unilateral approach.
Creating valuable meetings
Being the creator of a meeting means that one needs to determine who needs to participate and how to keep participants interested and involved during a meeting. Following is a checklist for the meeting creators. Answering these questions gives an overview and frames the purpose of the meeting:
|Who do I need?||Different people have different roles and competencies|
|Why do we need to meet?||being aware of the cause is sometimes challenging, but the manager needs to know before inviting|
|How can I be specific?||Challenges to change perspective or/and aware of time and importance|
|What is the outcome?||What/who will benefit and realizing goal|
This becomes relevant especially in the execution phase, where the number of participants is highest. There should be a segmentation between core group and peripheral project members. The last group should only be invited when their input is very important.
Planning meetings in advance to maximize efficiency
In projects, efficient communication means providing only the information that is needed.
In some cases, the agenda shows time estimates for the different topics. This gives participants an understanding of the important tasks in the meeting and structures discussion: when there is time and when there is not. The agenda needs to be relatable. Topics such as: “business review” does not fall into this category and can either be elaborated or phrased differently.
The purpose of the agenda is to provide an introduction of the meeting to participants. Then they understand why their participation is important and how to prepare. To avoid the meeting from becoming a habit, the agenda can include supporting information. Sending out agenda prior to the meeting allows participants to contribute, which makes the contemporary agenda relevant.
As soon as possible. The beginning of a project is also when risks and uncertainties are highest.  When the project manager invites to meetings about scope, schedule and cost, it is extremely important that everyone needed participates in meetings about interrelated topics to minimize risks, add their contribution and get to know each other.
Participation during meeting
Often when people give meetings bad reviews, it is because the meeting doesn’t seem relevant to them and/or because they do not know how to participate. People are motivated when purpose/success criteria relate to their role and tasks in a project. Having an important role during the meeting creates a purpose for them to participate, therefore encouraging active participation, delegating actions before, during or after the meeting will encourage participants.
Stated previously, creating a compelling agenda help clearing meeting goal. It is just as important to know how to use the agenda. In some cases, derivatives from the topics on the agenda can be the most valuable part of the meeting. Participants are engaged and new solutions/organizational knowledge is created. In order to do this and still manage a valuable meeting, the manager’s focus needs to be on the output rather than sticking to the agenda. Hall suggests following five questions:
|What outcome do we want on this topic?||In order to do what?|
|What process will we need to deliver this outcome?||How do we get there?|
|Which participants need to be involved?||Who will contribute?|
|How much time is worth spending on this?||How much time from schedule can we use on this compare to other tasks?|
Rogelberg suggests to experiment with new techniques and locations in order to stimulate participation and ideas. For meetings including many people and where decision making is important, it is sometimes helpful to split the crowd up into smaller groups. Similarly, facilitate meetings where everyone are standing up or in new environments often helps creativity and breaking up habits.
Encouragement of participation is important throughout all phases. Breaking up with habits in meetings will become relevant if/when people start to lose motivation. If project management pays attention to the outcome of the recurring meetings, needs for changes in style will be easy to discover. Meeting participants can help with acting when they experience that meetings they attend start to lose value.
Meeting minutes as a strategic tool
Important information and actions from meetings are often stored in minutes and saved in the project management plan. Information kept in minutes follows a structure and is maintained in an organized manner. Minutes can also be used strategically as a “meeting timeline”. For recurring, weekly meetings, such as a project status meeting or steering committee meeting, minutes from the previous week including important concerns, questions and actions can be used as an outcome driven agenda.
See figure 3 as an example inspired by the construction industry.
Meeting minutes should always be conducted, also when using another structure. When closing project (and after) the meeting minutes can in some cases work as the project library including milestones and real-time project history. In cases where projects end up with lawsuits meeting minutes can become very important legal documents. In more fortunate cases, the project manager needs the minutes during the evaluation.
There are several ways to monitor how the application of meeting strategies affects the project’s development.
Survey core group: an open survey with room for respondents to suggest their improvements.
KPI: Key performance indicators can either measure progress or achievement of the operational goal. For monitoring meetings' success when implementing strategies suggested in this article, relevant KPIs include: stakeholder satisfaction (for stakeholder meetings),
project profitability (difference between revenue generated by a project and cost of delivering work), project success rate (percentage of projects delivered on time and under budget)
Pulse-checks: informal, focused conversations with employees to understand how they approach their work.
When to implement The monitoring is important during the planning and executing phase where most activities need to be solved, hence there will be many meetings. The project manager can monitor the progress or use a resource for this task.
Meetings as a basis for change
Meeting culture can have a great impact on a project and in organizations. If succeeding with creating strategies for meetings in one project, the application in other projects or programs can be considered. A goal for changing meetings is to create a new organizational culture with improved communication, productivity, and integration of the work. Increased job satisfaction and work/life balance is another perk. Therefore, better meetings – better work lives.
Implementation of protocols and changing behaviors take time. Sustaining momentum is an even bigger challenge and can often not be considered as a process but more likely an ongoing activity needing consistent attention. However, if successful there is no reason for the meeting strategy not to scale up and become a supporting act to the organizational strategy.
There are several limitations to the strategies suggested, as meetings vary a lot in different organizations, even within different projects. However, this article deals with well known, generic problems and challenges. Limitations are following:
- Having too many meetings can be a symptom of a deeper, underlying corporate and cultural belief and practice. Therefore, reducing the number of meetings and sorting meetings in relevance may not improve working conditions for the team. Instead,
there is a chance that another activity will fill in the new, empty time slot. Too many meetings can be the tip of the iceberg of underlying challenges in an organization, the action of sorting in meetings itself will not resolve this.
- Working with changing meetings can be costly itself. It may not be suitable for all companies because the revenue created is not directly viewed on the bottom line. At least not in the beginning.
- Changing meeting culture is a team effort. One manager cannot perform severe changes without support from the team and upper management.
Project Management Institute. "A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)". Fifth edition, 2013
The concept of dividing a project’s life cycle into phases is described in PMBOK as well is the project communications management. Chapter 10 illustrates how communication is planned, distributed and documented. The book contains an investigation of challenges, guidelines, and tools used in project management industry.
Rogelberg, S., Scott, C. Kello, J. “The Science and Fiction of Meetings” 2007
This article evolves around employees spending an increasing amount of time in meetings and also complaining about them. But these employees see meetings as a tool for productivity and there is a need for companies learning to use this tool (meetings) better. The article provides examples and has statistics over how much time is spent in meetings.
Hall, K., Hall, A. "Kill Bad Meetings" 2017
The book is based on industry research as well as the authors own experiences as former CEOs in big organizations. The book aims to improve meeting culture worldwide by providing tools for managers to introduce in their own project and/or organization. The book also covers cross-cultural meetings, dealing with different time zones as well as facilitating a conference: a meeting for a lot of people.
- ↑ Romanco, N. and Nunamaker, J. (2001). Meeting Analysis: Findings from Research and Practice. Proceedings of the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Science, p 4. Available at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.570.6650&rep=rep1&type=pdf [Accessed 19 Feb. 2018]
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)- Fifth Edition, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc., p.589
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Hall, K. and Hall, A. (2017). Kill Bad Meetings. London: NB Books, p. 224.
- ↑ Microsoft.com. (2005). Survey finds workers average only three productive days per week. Available at: https://news.microsoft.com/2005/03/15/survey-finds-workers-average-only-three-productive-days-per-week/ [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018]
- ↑ Cross, R., Rebele, R., Grant, A. (2016). Collaborative Overload. Harvard Business Review, January-February 2016, p. 74-79. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/01/collaborative-overload [Accessed 19 Feb, 2018]
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Rogelberg, S., Scott, C. Kello, J. (2007). The Science and Fiction of Meetings. MIT Sloan Management Review, Volume 48(2), p. 18-21. Available at: https://orgscience.uncc.edu/sites/orgscience.uncc.edu/files/media/Rogelberg%20et%20al.%20-%202007%20-%20The%20science%20and%20fiction%20of%20meetings.pdf [Accessed 19 Feb, 2018]
- ↑ Weck, O., Roos, D., Magee, C. (2011). Engineering Systems: meeting human needs in a complex technological world. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, p. 208.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Perlow, L., Hadley, C., Eun, E. (2017). Stop the Meeting Madness. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2017, p. 62-69. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/07/stop-the-meeting-madness [Accessed 23 Feb, 2018]
- ↑ Model inspired by industry practice from construction industry.