As a product manager, your daily calendar is usually filled with a bunch of meetings sometimes even double-booked or triple booked meetings. The meetings could be 1:1 meetings with different stakeholders such as lead engineer of a specific feature, product architect, sales or marketing leads. In some cases, you would need to schedule meetings with almost all stakeholders or decision-makers to resolve certain issues such as product timeline, action plans, release issues or just debate some unresolved topics.
Getting all the stakeholders together is already a big challenge especially if the stakeholders are located at different time zones. Hence running effective meetings is a critical skill needed for a successful product manager. Let’s look at some best methods and tips to run effective meetings and get the most out of the limited meeting time.
Tip 1: Set the Agenda
Setting the agenda is the most important task or step that a PM can do for an effective meeting. The meeting agenda should be summarized on the meeting invite to all the stakeholders and should be pretty explicit at the outset. Everyone should basically know why they are attending this meeting and what needs to be accomplished. In fact, I have seen stakeholders outright reject meetings that did not have a specified agenda.
Tip 2: Manage the meeting time
The second step in the meeting is to manage the meeting time slot. Always start the meeting on time. Nothing drains the energy from a meeting room than asking people to wait till everyone shows up. Just as important as the starting time, it is very important to end the meeting on time. This shows that you respect the time of the attendees and they will be more receptive to attend your future meetings. Once you have a defined agenda set some time limits for the individual items and make sure that we don’t cross the time for each agenda item.
Tip 3: Action Items and follow up
Always take meeting minutes for every meeting. At the end of the meeting summarize the notes and also create an action plan. The action plan includes the next steps that need to be done after the meeting. Each action item should include a specific owner assigned and a specific timeline for follow-up or completion. Action items and follow up are a critical part of the success of a meeting. If there are specific action items that need to be completed before taking a decision then those need to be clearly specified in the meeting minutes. Don’t forget to follow up with the agenda item owners and close on it on or before the agreed timeline
Tip 4: Limit the attendee list
Review the attendee list before the meeting starts and list each person‘s role and responsibility in the meeting invite. A large invitee list results in a higher chance for the meeting to get sidetracked on any single item. Too many opinions lead to a cascading effect on all the other agenda items and that’s when the meeting runs overtime. Hence it’s critical to have control over the attendee list. If your invite gets forwarded to other attendees, then you can still control the time by using Tip 2 to manage the time and limit discussions on specific topics and request folks to take it offline.
Tip 5: Effective follow up after the meeting
Another good tip for a PM is to follow up on the action items after the meeting. This could be done as a side conversation or through email just to confirm that the list items are done. Then schedule another meeting (maybe a week or two later) so that we can confirm the decision or outcome with all the meeting attendees. Sometimes people don’t read emails and hence bringing everyone together to confirm the decision will prevent any confusion or surprise in the future.
Tip 6: Control the meeting dominators
One keynote for an effective meeting is to prevent one or two who dominate over your meeting. These individuals have a tendency to take over the meeting and run with the discussions. I have had a couple of these meetings where there someone off tracks the meeting completely with sideline discussions or arguing over a random topic. Such meetings are not effective and these individuals need to be reigned in for taking control of your meetings. This critical task can be accomplished by redirecting the conversation back to the topic at hand. You as a PM need to be decisive in reigning the discussion and asking the individuals to take the discussion offline.
Tip 7: Video and audio conference tool check
Meetings get complicated when it involves multiple stakeholders calling in from different geographies and time zones. The first step in such a case is to agree on a time where it works for everybody. Usually, this leads to a compromise for one or two teams that need to either call in the early morning or late at night. As a PM, you need to figure out which time works best and also get a pre-meeting approval for folks calling in at odd hours. The PM also needs to figure out the best audio and video communication platform that works for everybody. Usually corporate allows for a standard conference guideline such as Skype or Zoom. The PM needs to use a conference tool that works for all and then includes a link to join the meeting with the meeting agenda.
Tip 8: Office setup check for meetings
One trick for effective meetings is to have dual display screens. As a PM you are also the note taker for most of your meetings. Two screens give you the flexibility to present the meeting contents (PowerPoint, code or word document) on one screen and share it with everyone. Meanwhile, you can still open your note-taking tool on the secondary screen for adding the meeting minutes. If you are taking the meeting with only your laptop, then I suggest to share your screen and take notes with your phone.
Tip 9: Resolve the meeting time conflicts for attendees
There will be occasions where some of your meeting attendees or invitees cannot make it to the meeting because of a potential conflict. They might send you a message asking you to postpone the meeting to a different time so that they can attend. As a PM, this is an important call that you have to make for any meeting that involves multiple attendees.
You have to decide who you need in the meeting and how critical they are for the decision making process. For example, if you need to make a decision within a week then you should proceed with the meeting even if one or two stakeholders are missing. You can copy everyone in the meeting minutes. If you need to close on any action items with the missing attendees then close it with them after the meeting and then send out the updated decision to all the attendees again. If you get more than 2 cancelations then you should think about postponing the meeting to get an ideal time slot that works for all. In my experience, I always tend to go with the meeting unless it’s absolutely critical that multiple people cancel the meeting because of a conflict.
To summarize, do not take the effectiveness of a meeting for granted. Preparation for a meeting is extremely critical for the success of the meeting as compared to the meeting itself. Review the agenda, confirm the attendees, have control over the meeting, create action items, and follow up on the action items. Following these nine tips would make your meeting very effective to create the desired outcome and make you a very successful PM.