A good project meeting is like a dinner party: You’re the host and it’s your job to make sure your guests have a great experience.
Working in a multi-discipline firm like TETER, I’ve been on both the hosting and attending side of project kick-off meetings.
There are two key things that make a difference on how I feel about the meeting:
When I get the information. Coming into a kick-off meeting as an attendee, I enjoy having the information up front as I can start to formulate questions in advance to ask the design team when we’re all present. This lets me actually start working on the project when we have the kick-off meeting, instead of playing phone tag or exchanging lengthy emails.
As an engineer, it should come as no surprise that efficient meetings are the most enjoyable ones. I feel that my time in the meeting has value when I can pose my questions and receive answers as well as answer questions posed by others.
Coming into a kick-off meeting as a project manager, my team’s time is valuable. If I look at the kick-off meeting in terms of dollars, an hour-long kick-off meeting (accounting for various billing rates) can easily cost around a thousand dollars. With this in mind, taking the time to organize the information I have and preemptively answer the questions I know the other disciplines are going to have will be much more efficient for me to do as the manager than for each individual to do on their own. If I don’t know all the answers, I can at least get the ball rolling with an email or phone call.
How my time is spent. As an attendee, I dislike meetings where all I do is listen to someone read the slides or handouts verbatim – that wastes my time as I can read much faster than the presenter can talk! My time is valuable, and if I’m bored I’ll secretly work on a different project as I pay loose attention to what’s going on – and as most meetings these days are virtual, that’s now even easier to do. When a meeting is engaging and encourages participation, you’ll get my attention and a better end product, because this allows myself and the design consultants to do what they love best – designing.
As the project manager, the sooner everyone is collaborating together, the better the solution will be as it will take into account the different concerns and design constraints of the entire team when changes are easier (and cheaper!) to accommodate. As a side perk, I feel my effort is appreciated. There’s nothing quite so discouraging as having worked hard to gather information for a meeting and then proceed to talk to politely smiling faces (or worse yet, blank screens staying on mute) who receive the information and then walk out of the room (or sign off of Zoom/Teams) without saying more than two words.
Each time the design team gets together should be used effectively; it doesn’t happen often. To that end, below is some sage advice I’ve received that I’d like to pass on.
A well-executed project kick-off meeting is like a dinner party, and you, the project manager are the gracious host. Your project teammates are your guests and it’s your job to make sure they have a great experience.
- Set your menu (agenda). Your guests will show up starving for information, and you’re serving up five courses of it. Make sure it’s presented beautifully, on time, and everything is easy to eat! If dinner takes too long, people will just leave. Running over the scheduled meeting time is like hosting a five-hour dinner. Ugh! Serving cheesecake before the steak is confusing! Make sure your agenda is presented in logical order. Information should be presented generally, then in detail. Concise information is key! Don’t serve soup with a fork. Provide information and direction that’s easy to digest. It may take you longer to prepare, but the effort is well worth it for your guests!
- Create your guestlist and send out invites. Don’t forget to invite dear Aunt Yolanda! Make sure that anyone who will benefit from attending is invited; it will save you time to share the information just one time. If it’s a potluck, say so! Don’t expect people to bring information to the meeting if you haven’t told them to.
- Be the perfect host. Create a great atmosphere. Everyone is busy – find innovative ways to keep their attention so they leave your meeting with the info they need to be successful (snacks work magic). Don’t let Jerry, your college BFF with no manners, offend all your other guests. Make sure you are the perfect host. Don’t let anyone sidetrack your meeting or distract others from having a good time. Set the tone. Be inspirational and make sure everyone leaves your party full and happy. They will look forward to your next one!