We tend to think of project management as a corporate exercise in getting big things done. Project managers ensure the buildings get built. They guarantee new software projects get completed on time. You know the drill. But a fascinating article recently published by the Louisville Business First Leadership Trust raises a compelling question: can project management be applied to staff meetings?
The post was written by Joe DeSensi, a successful entrepreneur, writer, and recording artist. In it, DeSensi lays out his understanding of project management on a grand scale. He then applies that understanding to staff meetings. What he writes makes good sense. It may or may not be applicable in the real world, but his proposal is definitely worth looking at.
This post will not look at DeSensi’s piece in detail. It will cover some of the highlights. A good place to start is addressing why one would apply project management to staff meetings.
Time Wasted on Nothing
If you are familiar with the Dilbert comic strip, you know that one of its favorite themes is the staff meeting. Creator Scott Adams likes to poke fun at corporate staff meetings that waste a lot of time and don’t accomplish anything. What makes it so funny is that it is not far from the truth.
How many staff meetings that you’ve attended haven’t accomplished anything? Probably too many. It is usually because whoever was responsible for the meeting had no plan. Their lack of planning was exacerbated by staff members who can’t seem to keep their thoughts on track. Hours of bunny trails and repetitive dissertations culminated in no substantive decisions and no clear vision.
The Project Management Difference
DeSensi asserts that five project management principles can change staff meetings dramatically if applied consistently. His five principles are not unlike those proposed by the Janiko Group for traditional project management. Both DeSensi and the Janiko Group think along the same lines.
Here are the five principles mentioned in his piece:
- Initiation– Project management dictates initiating a meeting by figuring out why it’s being called. What is the purpose of the meeting? What are its objectives? Does the person calling the meeting have a particular vision in mind? If such questions cannot be answered, there may be no need for the meeting at all.
- Planning– The next principle is planning. In terms of the staff meeting, this means planning exactly how the meeting will be conducted. It means planning the amount of time allotted for each topic, who will lead the discussions, and so forth.
- Execution– Next up is execution. Like any good project, staff meetings should be executed according to the plan. This prevents things from getting out of hand.
- Monitoring– Just like projects have to be monitored in terms of budget, scope, etc., staff meetings have to be monitored by someone who has the ability to get things back on track in the event they run off the rails. Failing to monitor leads to a Dilbert-like meeting.
- Analysis– DeSensi’s final point is what he refers to as ‘closing’. However, ‘analysis’ seems like a better term. This task looks back on the meeting after it’s complete and assesses how it went. Post-meeting analysis sets the stage for doing better next time.
Can project management be applied to staff meetings? In theory, yes. Whether or not it works in practice relies a lot on how willing participants are to commit to a project management structure. If everyone is on board, there is no reason they cannot have better meetings that actually produce results without wasting time.