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Meeting Management – an Untapped area in IT Management Systems

January 21, 2009

Robert Hamada (aka Reid Hastie) wrote a recent NY Times article, “Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time“. He describes the distress of non-effective meetings and their consumption of the participants unrecoverable time, and their pervasiveness (“every organization has too many meetings, and far too many poorly designed ones”). But his focus is to point to setting clear goals and personal responsibility as the antidote. It’s good, but not enough… and technology, specifically an information technology management system, can help, let me explain.

Actually Hamada’s article touches on where technology helps the most. He describes different participants each taking “mike” time (my phrase) to speak to their own agenda – none of which particularly helped the meeting move forward or created a outcome achieving process. It reminds me that most meetings have a loose enough structure that they frequently drift into a “karoke” effect. Who ever wants to sing… can. And in fact may in effect stay at the mike for several songs, or sing multiple verses of the same song.

I think most meetings have a poorly defined and much to wide definition of acceptable verbal behavior. Think about it for a moment. Is it OK to express yourself in 50 words or 500 or 5,000? It’s probably not defined or enforced in the meetings you attend. Here’s a few more examples.  Is it OK to tell stories to illustrate your point? Is it OK to tell stories without checking to see if anyone is confused and needs the story for explanation… or bored and needs the story for entertainment;).

Robert was correct, we don’t have clear enough objectives and shared responsibility for reaching them, but perhaps as important, we don’t have agreed upon definitions for when to get on the “mike” and how to act once you have the “mike”.

We’ve completed two studies on meeting management, in both of which we were able to demonstrate a 50% reduction in the time spent in the meeting to cover the same set of agenda and project items.

We use ManagePro as the IT Management System to provide a framework for not only setting the agenda, but also for structuring or defining meeting behavior. In essence the meeting ran with ManagePro projecting the projects and goals to be reviewed on the meeting room wall using a projector. Meeting behavior was structured, perhaps a better work is focused or contained, as the following sequence of behaviors.
1. Read the displayed latest progress update on the selected topic,
2. Discuss the status and document any additional information discussed
3. Identify any action items coming out of the discussion and create them on the spot as to-dos with a person assigned and a due date… then move on to the next item.

The structure began to tighten even further as the emphasis was placed upon writing project summaries in 50 words or less and limiting meeting comments to two minutes before bringing the comment to a conclusion. Here’s a link to a document how we set up ManagePro as the meeting management technology basis for improved results.

By-the-way, if anyone knows where you can find sand-timers that are large enough to easily see in a meeting, let me know. They would make an excellent prop for giving people a visual cue to wrap up their discussion.


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