How to Master Effective Meetings as a Project Manager



For project managers, meetings are an important part of the project management process and they critical in the overall success of your project. Effective team meetings often provide the best forum for discussing ideas, strategy, best practices and collaboration improvements. As a project manager, learning to lead an effective meeting is a crucial skill to master. If you need to enhance your meeting leadership skills, consider the following blueprint.

Do we need to meet?

One of the biggest offenses of poor meeting leadership is scheduling a meeting without a clear agenda. Given how busy all employees are and the high cost of people’s time, a meeting must be productive in order to justify the costs. Before calling any meeting, be clear that bringing people together is necessary.

To help determine if a meeting makes sense, ask yourself “Why am I calling this meeting?” If it is simply to push out information, you may be able to accomplish the same thing with a conference call or via e-mail. Also remember to beware of scheduling standing meetings if the project does not call for it. By scheduling only necessary meetings, you build a brand of a efficient leader who respects other individuals' time.

Create a Clear Agenda

Once you have determined a meeting is necessary, take the time to create a clear agenda and share it in advance of the meeting. Include the agenda in your meeting request so all members can prepare. A strong agenda includes:

  • Date, time and duration of the meeting
  • Location, dial-in and video conferencing information
  • A brief explanation of the meeting’s purpose
  • List of topics to be addressed with an estimated duration for each topic
  • Buffer space for feedback and open discussion

The opening

The kick off is an opportunity to set the tone for the entire meeting and for your particular meeting leadership style. It is important to welcome everyone to the meeting, restate the purpose and review the agenda.

Openings should include introductions if members don’t all know each other. For established teams, think about a quick way to have everyone “check-in” to the meeting. This helps re-focus the attendees energy and attention onto the meeting at hand.

Enlisting Help

If you are running the meeting, make sure to assign a note taker and time keeper for the meeting. This cannot be you and, ideally, should be two different people. The note taker will record key findings, issues, actions and next steps. Great meetings include great follow-up and a strong set of notes is invaluable when drafting the meeting follow-up. A time keeper is a useful resource to keep meetings on track. A person that monitors the clock will help the meeting leader be as efficient as possible with the group’s time.

Skills to Build

We’ve all been in a meeting where unplanned discussions come up and new topics derail the agenda. Meeting leaders need to be skilled at keeping meetings focused and on target. They need to practice techniques that recognize the unplanned topics but regain the group’s focus on the primary agenda. For example it may make sense to hold-off discussing the new topics until the end of the meeting or to add them to the agenda of a follow up meeting. By controlling the meeting and following the agenda, you avoid disruptions and maintain focus on the prioritized items.

Encouraging Participation

Meetings are a great opportunity to build connections and comradery between team members. A strong leader works to find ways for everyone in the group to contribute and participate. Ask questions and request feedback from team members who normally don’t contribute. Alternatively, you can also ask different team members to own and lead a piece of the agenda during the meeting.

The Wrap-Up

Just as the opening sets the tone of your meeting, the warp-up provides an opportunity to summarize key points, and to recap action items and assignments. When closing down the meeting it is also critical to clarify how follow-up will be communicated. For example: “We made great progress on the open items and I’ll be following up via e-mail with notes and key actions this afternoon.” Finally, try to close out the meeting on a positive note about the meeting and what was accomplished.

Follow-Up

As soon as possible, send an email follow-up of what was discussed in the meeting. Summarize the key decisions, assigned tasks, next steps and other relevant notes or commentary. Make sure to include any specific dates or timelines for future meetings and solicit feedback and discussion topics for the next meeting.

The skill of running an effective team meeting is fundamental to your success as a project manager. By implementing these simple and repeatable steps, your leadership skills will be refined and your meetings will be efficient and productive.


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7 Tips for Better Time Management



For any project manager, time and project management is critical. Over the course of a project, you will be constantly engaged in time management, whether it is managing the schedule, milestones or the progression of tasks. Project managers are well skilled at this, however, it is often a different story when it comes to managing their own time. A lack of personal time-management skills can result in stress and burning out. Here are 7 quick suggestions that will help PMs manage their personal time better.

  1. Scope your week - Spend 20 minutes at the beginning of your work week reviewing your calendar and noting the meetings, deliverables and tasks required of you. Once everything is in view, plan the appropriate amount of time required for successfully completing each item. Scoping your week and planning your time will help you avoid over commitment or being under prepared.
  2. Prioritize - Each day tackle “must do’s” tasks first and with focus. These are the items that need to be accomplished today. Be disciplined in avoiding any item that did not make the “must do” list and only tend to them after your prioritized tasks are completed. Working this way will help stabilize your work week and stop you from getting slammed.
  3. Underestimate yourself - Although this sounds counter intuitive, studies show that we overestimate what we are able to accomplish in a given amount of time. Just as you do when creating a project plan, anticipate that there will be distractions and interferences in your personal schedule. Plan for this by building in some extra time for each of the items on your daily to-do list.
  4. Stop Multitasking - Multi-tasking may not be a good way to accomplish “must do” items. Multi-tasking dilutes your focus across several tasks. Instead, practice solo-tasking where you apply full attention to the task at hand and once it is completed, move your full focus to the next task.
  5. Respond, don’t react - Break the habit of quickly handling small incoming distractions. Note them down but don’t react until the task you are working on is done. Manage the tools that deliver these distractions by logging-out, setting them to do-not-disturb or turning them off until your current task is done.
  6. Outsource tasks - Identify which tasks can be outsourced or delegated to a team member or across the team and then assign them. Set a goal to pass one of your sizeable tasks each week. You must budget time to review the resulting work and make adjustments as necessary.
  7. Take breaks - Staying focused for long periods is draining and difficult. Planning a few minutes to relax between tasks is a good technique for staying focused and energized. It could mean physically getting up and moving away from your desk or just mentally relaxing for a few moments.

Following some or all of these tips can help Project Managers control their personal work schedules. Let us know what has worked for you?


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Delegate Project Management Overload Away



Most project managers would say there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything the job requires, PMs who are under constant pressure to do more and are working 50 hour weeks to do their jobs well. Project management is a complex process.

To manage the demands of the job, project managers should skill up in using delegation. PMs who learn to delegate work load effectively will restore their work balance and have more free time to focus on the important tasks. If you find yourself reluctant to let go or if you are stuck believing it must be done by you to be done right, the following 5 tips are for you.

  1. Start Small - If delegation is new to you, it is best to start with a simple and somewhat small task. Don’t delegate an important, time-sensitive or complex project item just to get it off your plate. Select a task that has a clear project scope that you can clearly define and measure. Basically delegate the easy stuff to start.
  2. Choose well - Once you have chosen a project, task or milestone to delegate, select the right person for the job. Most importantly select someone you are confident has the skills needed to complete the task, and if possible, someone who’s skills or interests align to the task at hand. Knowing the strengths of team members can help you match employees with tasks for maximum success.
  3. Teach - Once you have your task and delegate selected, make sure you communicate the task and expectation to them clearly. Think through how you will explain the project or task and what tools you might utilize to teach your team member how you normally approach the task. Can you write down the steps you would take as guide? Should you take the time to show them how to accomplish the task? What tips, tricks and tools do you use? Can you create a template that can be used each time you delegate? In essence, think like a teacher and take the time to deliver a solid lesson.
  4. Let go (but not completely) - One of the most important keys to good delegation is knowing how to be available to help if needed but not to micro-manage. Once a task has been delegated to an employee or team member it is theirs to complete. This is often the hardest step to learn and one that takes the most practice. You will need to continually remind yourself to let go and to allow others to step in. Be prepared that your team member may not tackle the task in the same way you would. Be flexible and supportive to their process.
  5. It is simple, not easy - It is imperative that you expect delegation to be a bit painful at first. Just like any new skill, it takes time to master delegation. Plan for growing pains, frustrations and even set-backs along the way. It most likely may even feel like more work initially. Don’t give up too soon and remember that delegation will help you in the long-term if you can master the art, and that it does get easier with practice.

What is your experience and what advice can you dispense about delegating your work load? Please share in the comments section below.


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Guide to Project Management Skills in the Enterprise




Project Management skills are in high demand across many industries. As the velocity of enterprise business continues to increase, companies are under pressure to deliver projects within tighter deadlines, on schedule and with the high level of quality customers and partners expect. To do this, they need skilled professionals to define project requirements and implement them, plan and budget, orchestrate schedules and resources, manage project timelines and to simply be leaders.

The title of project manager (PM) is so broad these days, that it covers many different functions and specialty areas. However, there is a fundamental set of skills that will help any professional manage their project successfully.

The PM ‘to-do’ list

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what a project manager's role is these days. Many people who may not have the Project Manager title in their job descriptions are also accountable for managing or leading projects. Regardless of title, industry or specialty, there are certain duties they must do. At the core, anyone managing a project will have to:

  • Understand the project’s objectives and requirements
  • Create a project estimate
  • Break down the project and plan it
  • Set and re-set expectations accurately
  • Manage project members and other project resources
  • Proactively communicate with stakeholders
  • Manage risk and changes

Landing the ‘to do’ list

It doesn't matter how you ended up being responsible for a project and whether you are a project manager by title or not. What matters is that you are the person accountable for getting everything moving in the same direction, at the right time, within budget while managing employees, clients, managers and risks.

To do this well requires a balance of hard skills, such as accurate estimating, and soft skills, such as managing relationships with stakeholders. Skilling up in both of these areas will help project managers not only be successful on current projects but also distinguish those who are on a project management career track.

Next, we will look at some of the critical hard skills and soft skills that make project managers successful.

Soft skills for hard projects

You may have heard the term “soft skills” used around the company. The term may have been used to describe the characteristics of a person which enable them to work well with others. For example, things like a person’s communication style, their ability to motivate others, how they build working relationships, how they manage conflict and their level of patience and perseverance.

Companies recognize that these traits enable their employees to work with colleagues, clients and partners, easily and collaboratively, to achieve a common goal. These characteristics are important success drivers for project related organizations and although they are difficult to measure in their PMOs or teach in the employee development curriculum, companies know these soft skills are critical for any employee who is accountable for a complex project.

Read our "5 essential soft skills for good project management".

Hard Skills

Hard Skills are easier to measure and easier to teach than soft skills. They are the technical abilities and techniques required to fulfill the duties of project management. For example, the ability of a project manager to deliver tangible things such as accurate estimations, schedules, work breakdowns and budgets. Or, proficiency in using project software, creating metrics and creating reports.

Project management organizations understand that these hard skills are essential fundamentals for successfully landing projects. PMs know that effectively managing any project will require they have learned these skills.

Read our "5 essential hard skills for good project management".


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5 “Essential” Hard Skills for Effective Project Management



Project management organizations understand that hard skills are essential fundamentals for successfully landing projects. PMs know that effectively managing any project will require they have learned these skills.

These are the hard Skills for Project Managers:

  1. Project Charter Preparation
  2. Work Breakdown
  3. Scheduling
  4. Budgeting
  5. Risk Management

1. Project Charter Preparation

Project charters are the blueprint for effective project management. They should be issued by management and they should provide a summary of the business opportunity the project is intending to capitalize on. However often management does not produce the charter and it is frequently up to the project manager to develop it.

A good project charter will define the purpose, objectives and the scope of the project. Project charters also include key details such as budgetary guidance, stakeholder lists and a timeline. They become a critical reference point throughout the project’s life cycle. PMs who become proficient in creating project charters will be better equipped for communicating with their project sponsors and for gaining stakeholder buy-in. Our five tips for developing this skill are:

  • Use the project charter’s development as an opportunity to engage your sponsor and stakeholders. Collaborating early will establish beneficial relationships that will help later on.
  • Be clear and concise – think one or two pages. A brief project charter will not only be better received by busy stakeholders, it will also help you communicate succinctly.
  • Include measurable, time-bound objectives that are realistic, easy to understand and simple to track.
  • Set the project’s preliminary timeline with a simple visual that includes key milestones and when they will be delivered. A good visual will be updated and re-used in status reports throughout the project's life.
  • Reuse project charter statements when communicating. This will help realign audiences with the important business objectives of the project.

2. Work Breakdown

Developing a work breakdown structure or WBS is a critical planning item in managing a project. Work breakdown structure’s help PM’s organize the scope of their projects and enable them to do a variety of project management tasks such as assigning resources and defining deliverables. Since a WBS forms the foundation for all cost and time estimations it is a crucial skill for any project managers to have in their tool box.

Project managers need to become skilled in breaking down all project deliverables into smaller work packages, a process called decomposition. Here are some best practices in creating a WBS:

  • Include 100% of the items required for successful project delivery in the development of your WBS – internal and external deliverable.
  • Lean on your team when creating a Work Breakdown Schedule. They will contribute valuable experience and perspectives to the process.
  • Leverage any existing models or templates that your group or company may have created in the past.
  • Using tools like mind mapping software for the decomposition process and will help you capture and structure the WBS.

3. Scheduling

Project managers know they need to produce a time based schedule of activities so they can set the order in which tasks will be completed. Over the course of the project their schedule will help them see each task, whether it has been completed, is partially done or still needs to be done. It will also allow project managers to see where there are dependencies so they can plan the most efficient path for delivering tasks.

Scheduling is a challenging part of project management and a hard skill PMs need to have. They will benefit from having completed a WBS document which will help set up the project tasks and estimate and sequence them on the schedule. Here are 5 tips to help PMs enhance their scheduling skills:

  • Add progress milestones as check points to the schedule and regularly check them.
  • Wherever possible put higher risk tasks closer to the beginning of your schedule, so you have more runway to manage delays.
  • Know the different types of duration counts that can be used for estimating task duration.
  • Baseline schedules after they have been created so you can compare the plan versus actual when you get into execution.
  • Anticipate that the project schedule will change as tasks or client needs fluctuate and have a process for handling changes.

4. Budgeting

Writing project budgets is an important hard skill for getting projects properly funded and for controlling them. A project manager’s ability to get approval for the necessary funding is dependent on the costs they forecast in their budget. An approved budget also forms a baseline against which actual costs can be measured against to determine if the project is on the right track.

Projects that go way over budget are often viewed as unsuccessful, even if they are delivered on time. Project Managers need to be skilled in forecasting and managing budgets. Here are a few strategies for developing project budgeting skills.

  • Consult with your project team and sponsor when estimating your costs. They have experience that may help you more accurately estimate.
  • After you have estimated costs, identify risks such as third party dependencies, depth of experience on your bench or unfamiliar technology, and manage this risk by adding padding to the budget.
  • Your budget should not just be the total costs of your project, it is the total cost + padding for risk mitigation.
  • Learn from similar budgets that your team or company may have created before, paying special attention to the areas that went beyond budget.
  • Protect your budget against any scope creep. Use your change management process and seek additional funding to cover any unplanned work that can ruin the budget.

5. Risk Management

Projects rarely go exactly as expected and stuff goes wrong along the way. Project managers who are skilled at managing unexpected obstacles plan for it. It is a hard skill that begins with trying to identify the vulnerable areas of the project and then assessing the probability and the impact to the project in worse case scenarios. Skilled PM’s should be able to determine which vulnerabilities require risk management strategies, and they include those strategies into the main project plan to mitigate the risk.

  • Understand how much risk is tolerable on the project. You will need to calibrate any risk management plans with this level of risk toleration.
  • Divide your risk areas into three categories, High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk. Create a mitigation plan for all High Risk vulnerabilities.
  • Execute recurring risk assessment exercises regularly through the life of the project as a way of monitoring for new risks that may have surfaced.
  • Identify positive risks and create plan in advance for capitalizing on these opportunities so they can be turned into favorable outcomes.
  • The costs for all risk management plans need to be built into the budget early.

You may also have noticed that many of the hard and soft skills we have listed here are interrelated. Project managers will need to employ many different skills, particularly as the complexity of their project increases. Those who have the right combination of expertise and experience will be valuable in any project focused enterprises and all PMOs. Any PM who effectively utilizes some of these hard and soft skills will greatly increase their chances of success. At the same time they will also be improving their own personal brand amongst colleagues, clients and management.

Becoming proficient at project management will mean that practitioners are constantly adding to their existing skills with new best practices and techniques. Doing so will not only help them become more successful at their project management career but it will also help them stand out as high performers in the broader organization.

Also a recent MIT-Sloan Report reveals that at the enterprise level, ecological considerations have led to greater success for business.



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