Death by Meeting

Meetings are literally the bane of our professional existence. Often—more often than we dare admit—they are useless wastes of time and effort. If any effort is expended at all. Reid Hastie recently blogged this gem in the New York Times online:

“Time is the most perishable good in the world, and it is not replenishable. You can’t earn an extra hour to use on a busy day. Nonetheless, we usually have a vague feeling that there is plenty of time—somewhere in the future—so we waste it now and carelessly steal time from our families, friends or ourselves.”

Are We Doomed?

Maybe. Some managers may believe that progress cannot be managed without holding meetings. I think, though, that few things hinder projects more than useless meetings.


The point of a project is not the progress made toward completing the effort or implementing the plan, but the implementation itself.

Question: What is a “good” meeting?

Answer: No meeting.

Sorry, but that’s the fact. My field is technical communication; the thing I need most when I begin my part in a project is information. I need to identify those who have the information I need in order to prepare the documentation I was hired to deliver. Do meetings serve my needs?

Not likely.

Most of the time, I draw the information I need directly from system developers or engineers. Those people are up to their arm pits, usually, writing and testing code. What is the most frustrating thing they can do? Leave the code they’re developing to go to a meeting.

Face Time

I need face time, but really only with the application or system about which I write. If I can see it on the development server, I can grasp what it is supposed to do and so ask better questions of the developers and engineers. Do I need to reserve a conference room and schedule a meeting? Probably not. The telephone and e-mail were made for just such a function. If I don’t get a response from someone, then I’ll have to darken their cubicle, but only to follow up and ask what I should do to make things easier for that person to answer my questions. (Perhaps not using those exact words; I can anticipate the response already.)

About Meetings

Perhaps managers should think less about management and more about leadership. Lead the project team: set goals and standards and follow up individually.

  • Use on-line tools to update the schedule and mark progress
    Team members can submit updates to the project schedule through the corporate intranet or, if they work remotely, through a VPN connection to the intranet.
  • Share information online
    If the on-line project schedule shows that someone has a problem, a team member can volunteer her or his assistance directly to another through a phone call or an e-mail.
  • Limit meetings to issues
    If a core element is not developing well, call in those working on its various elements. Even then, members do not have to leave their cubicles and their working materials; these sessions can be conducted using a teleconference tool.
  • Most people eat lunch
    It may be a good idea to set up a team luncheon outside of the office so that people can meet socially. Good questions and targeted discussions at these luncheons can go a long way to further the project without wasting time.

Less May Be More

More productive, that is.

The goal of the project manager is to lead the team so that they successfully deliver the project. Meetings that do not materially further that goal are pointless.

No one likes that.