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Extreme Meetings for Extreme Project Management
by Shaun Ajani


I eat my bagel as I sit through an early meeting at 8:00 AM to form a quick strategy for the 9:00 AM Corporate Communications meeting. Soon after 9:00 AM, after a quick coffee break, my meeting-packed day leads me to the 10:30 AM meeting, to discuss documentation. At 11:30 AM, I finally get a chance to catch up on my E-mails, and then off I go to a very hectic lunch on the road, to reach a 1:00 PM off site meeting, to discuss Store Security strategies.

While sitting in the meeting, which is running half an hour over, I am already thinking of my 3:00 PM meeting, back at the client site, to assist in knowledge transfer, due to some departing consultants. All this, and I was not even the Project Manager … I was just assisting a very competent PM. At the rates the PM's get today, it is every manager's responsibility to reduce the time spent in meetings, and to optimize every moment spent around the conference table.

But meetings are a fact of life for a manager, especially a Project Manager. Clearly, the management methodology has not evolved to a point where meetings can be executed to maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Hence, comes a solution from Extreme PMExtreme Meeting. Extreme Meeting accomplishes two main objectives. It uses the project staff in an efficient manner for better productivity, and it reframes the Project Manager's time and importance.

Side Alpha - Side Bravo

Two heads are better then one. How many times have you heard this cliché? Now let me ask you, how many times have you used this to your advantage? Side Alpha -Side Bravo or SASB (pronounced sas-bee), is extremely useful for generating new ideas or solutions. It involves breaking up the team in two sides, and keeping them apart, during brainstorming sessions.

Figure 1.1: Solutions Generated

SASB essentially illustrates that the number of solutions generated by each side (Side Alpha [SA] or Side Bravo [SB]), will be more then half of the number of solutions generated in a typical (normal) session. In other words, SA > ½ Normal, or SA + SB > Normal. Hence, if Normal = 20, then SA and SB will approximately be 15 each. Or, 15 + 15 > 20, further, 30 > 20.

The idea here is to use the combined action of the staff to produce results that are more than the project stakeholders usually expect. Solutions generated are given a lot of importance here, because solutions are really a metaphor for a lot of discussions and goals that we endeavor for. And the numbers used in this simple example can easily be 150, instead of 15, and 200, instead of 20. For example, in a project, a few years ago, the original business requirements were not successfully transferred over to the technical requirements. Hence, there was a huge disconnect between what the business side (project sponsor) was expecting, and what the final product provided.

When the business side refused to accept the product, the technical side responded by holding brainstorming sessions, to come up with solutions. The result was a list of a few items that needed to be mitigated. Unfortunately, even after all this effort, there was a vast fissure between the business requirements and the technical requirements. This is a classic example, where SASB can be implemented. For example, the business side and the technical side can be broken into SA and SB, where half of SA will consist of business and the other half of technical staff. Ditto for the SB side. The resulting proposed solutions can be labeled as 'gaps', and the project can move forward successfully.

Time/Importance Framing

Time/Importance Framing (TIF) occurs, when the opposing party views the subject with a TIF level, which is slightly higher then the normal TIF. A TIF level is basically a point of reference that we use to judge the importance we give to people, right before acting in favor, or against that person. For example, if a co-worker asks you to attend a meeting, you will go through a thought process, containing of several different criteria that you will use to decide on the action. We always tend to give importance to things in our own priorities, which may, or may not, be beneficial for the project. TIF simply balances those priorities.

If you think that the co-worker requesting the meeting has enough value to offer you, you will probably accept the meeting. And depending on how much you value the co-worker's TIF, you will decide on other factors as well. For example, how long are you willing to sit in the meeting? How prone are you to cancel the meeting? And so on. It is very important to understand this concept, as not only your staff, but also everyone else around you is constantly using TIF.

Here is another very interesting way of looking at it. We are changing the Perceptive Reality of these people. I introduced a fascinating theory on Perceptive Reality last year in my book, "The Eternal Optimist". It will be beneficial to give it a cursory glance. Here is an excerpt from it,

"People tend to move toward the reality that makes them happy ... "

I have introduced, in The Eternal Optimist, my theory of the Realm of Perceptive Reality (RPR). RPR has been whirling around in my mind for some years now; finally I have the chance to articulate it.

"It is based on the very correct premise that there is one, and only one, true reality that exists in the universe. And in its most fundamental form, RPR is that perception of reality, which we gather and exist in, from that one true reality."

Caution: It must be understood that TIF is not there to create a phony pompously ostentatious image for the Project Manager. This article is written for experienced Project Managers, who have overcome all the pretentious complexes. And as this is Extreme Meetings, form the Extreme Project Management series, some of the ideas maybe - well - extreme. But remember that in a nutshell, we are changing the perceptive reality of these people, and are helping them put our time and importance in the right frame, to produce the most efficient results for the project stakeholders. Below are some of the components of TIF:

For your staff to form a positive TIF level, you must demonstrate that your time is valuable, and that you are important. Choose a routine meeting, such as a recurrent Status Meeting, so all the regular staff members are present. Around ten minutes or so into the meeting (to ensure everyone is present), announce in a nonchalant way that you have to leave early for another meeting. Do not explain with whom, for what, or give any details. Give the appearance that you have places to go; people to see, who are apparently at a higher level in the pecking order.

Have a trusted co-worker interrupt you during a meeting, once in a while. Have it sound urgent. Return back to the meeting in a few minutes. Also, in an indifferent manner, keep checking your watch, beeper, cell phone, or any PDA device that you might carry.

Limit Invitees
When you schedule a meeting, limit your invitees, unless it is a brainstorming, or solutions planning session. The less the attendees, the less time it will take to conduct the meeting. This also gives the impression that the people invited have a particular status in the project. This is particularly true for Status Meetings, especially if you have it several times a week. Only team leads and project managers (in case you are fortunate enough to be running a mammoth project with multiple projects tying in) should be invited to status meetings.

Verbiage and Body Language
Verbiage and body language are great methods to control the length of the meeting. If you are the manager, you already know that you must lean forward, if you want to show interest and encourage the person speaking in the meeting. The opposite is also true. If you want to cut down a lengthy explanation of a staff member, look at your watch, lean back, or just turn your head away from the speaker. This will break the speaker's pattern, and will give you a chance to interject, without seeming rude or uninterested.

Carefully choose your words, if you have an enthusiastic group of people pitching ideas at you (which inadvertently turns into its own lengthy discussions). You certainly do not want to discourage a passionate group; at the same time you do not want a meeting going on indefinitely. For example, if you are in a feverish brainstorming session, by saying, "what else?" in a slightly loud and in a somewhat eager manner after every idea, you will certainly ensure that even more ideas will be launched at you. However, just say in a muted tone, "is there anything else?" after an offered idea, and you will almost guarantee an immediate transformation of your group members to a virtually non-participant crowd.

Recently, after consuming mass quantities of black coffee, I found myself in a meeting, sitting at the far end of a very crowded conference room, away from the door. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, I had this overwhelming desire to bolt for the door, and to the rest room in the next hallway. But it was an important meeting, with important people. As I sat there, cross-legged and suffering, I realized the power of liquid!

This method is great for problem meetings that persistently run over their allocated time. If you want to keep a meeting short, keep plenty of coffee, tea, water, juices, and anything that flows and tastes good. Be a good host and set an example by keeping a clear glass or mug (so the participants can see that you have your container full). Don't forget to keep sipping from it constantly. Majority of the staff will follow your actions. Within 30 to 45 minutes, I guarantee the staff members to get edgy and sub-consciously trying to end the meeting. This all may sound comical, but it is a great way to manage TIF.

Ever sat in a room that is too cold or too hot? I rest my case.

Don't Cancel or Postpone
If certain key people cannot attend, do not cancel or postpone your meetings. It is like talking to a friend on the phone, and being told, "I have another call, can I call you back?" It shows that there is something more important than you out there at that moment. That must never happen. You will loose your TIF ratings. If threatened by a conflicting meeting, keep the meeting short, by using any of the above methods, then reschedule the meeting for a later time.

In conclusion, always remember to keep your TIF in check. Have a constant vigil for anything that threatens it. Extreme Meeting is particularly designed for combating lower TIF. But do not forget the big picture, TIF is designed to generate efficient results for the project, by managing the meetings more proficiently.


The Author


Shaun Ajani is an internationally published author of many books and articles, including, "If You Row, You Will Not Drift - Perfect Life Management - The Life Wizard", "Extreme Project Management", and "How Real is Your Soul?". He has worked with aviation, IT, retail, HR, finance, education, and training industries, in companies such as Motorola, Dollar Stores, Nation Gifts, Code Factory, Washington Mutual, Boise Cascade, Sears, and Spherion. visit for additional information.

Many more articles in Project Management in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2001 by Shaun Ajani. All rights reserved.

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