Project team ground rules are a necessity. Almost all project teams have frequent meetings and even more frequent communication in various forms. If the project manager doesn’t set ground rules for these meetings and communications, a significant amount of time is lost. Together, the project manager and team identify and formulate the ground rules that members of the team should follow when they interact. These rules cover video conferences, in person-meetings and telephone conferences. The ground rules can cover a wide range of team member and project manager behavior.
Project Team Ground Rules: Examples
The ground rules may include the “completed staff work” concept. That approach to meetings aims at substantially reducing the amount of time the team members waste when people at the meeting are not ready to discuss the topics. The completed staff work concept is based on an agenda. Anybody can add an item to the agenda. The only requirement is that they distribute materials to all the team members before the meeting. That allows everyone to come ready to discuss the issue. Another rule is that you cannot raise an issue at the meeting that was not on the agenda with preparatory materials distributed. These rules help avoid bad decisions being made when people have not had time to thoroughly consider the issues.
Other ground rules may deal with interpersonal conflict. As an example, a ground rule may prohibit discussing work issues on previous projects. Other rules may bar personal criticisms, (“you’re very stubborn”) versus criticizing behavior (“you would not listen to my side of the problem”).
It is very easy to get carried away with too many ground rules. You don’t want people to have to consult a lengthy document to decide how to handle an interpersonal situation. The ground rules should fit on one side of one piece of paper. Remember, the goal is to avoid wasting time in meetings or making bad decisions because people are unprepared or rushed to make a decision.
Project Team Ground Rules: Project Meeting Scenario
A status report meeting I participated in some months ago lasted 2 hours. Approximately 20 people attended, including the project team, test leaders, team leaders, PMO staff, etc. The meeting had many elements that are considered best practices. They included the following:
- all attendees sent the PM their issues before the meeting
- the agenda was distributed before the meeting
- no other issues were brought up in the meeting
Long story short, it went something like this. Each person went through the status report covering their work stream, what they did, what they were going to do, issues, risks, decisions to be made, etc. I noticed that after the first 30 minutes, some of the attendees lost interest. After one hour, most were either checking their phone or chatting about something with the person next to them. You can imagine how the situation was after 2 hours.
I share this example to make the point that following what are considered best practices does not mean you are efficient or effective. In the above example, if you calculate 20 people * 2 Hrs = 40 Hrs (40/8 =5PD) of effort for a single status meeting. One meeting a week adds up to 260PD a year, which is a significant effort.
Project Team Ground Rules: The 30 Minute Meeting
Below is an approach that has worked for me. I call it the 30 minute meeting.
- Schedule important meetings early in the day. A meeting is a pit-stop (as in Formula One racing) where all the team members must get the overall picture. It must be kept short and to the point.
- The core of a status meeting is the status report. Prepare it beforehand. I like to prepare a presentation vs. a written document.
- A picture (or better a chart) shows no more than 1,000 words. The PM must give the bigger picture, showing all relevant charts in perspective. That includes the actual, planned, and forecast.
- All topics that are on track don’t need to be discussed one by one. They are only referenced in the status report (preferably in a chart). Include all the details in the appendix for the people who want to read it on their own time.
- Deal with topics that need bilateral attention outside the meeting. Time is precious so nobody is allowed to waste it. The PM must ensure the status meeting is not a place for everyone to dump their issues and problems.
- Keep it short and keep it clean. Be brave to exclude from the meeting all less relevant content. A short and to the point meeting is too important to be sacrificed for side topics.
Finally, a PM needs to keep the right balance of management overhead and actual work product in their meeting ground rules. My rule of thumb for overhead is not to exceed 10% of the total efforts. This approach to status report meetings works for me. It leaves the team energized, their attention sharp through the entire meeting and minimizes the management overhead.