How to brace for weekly project update meetings like a grizzled sea captain bracing for a terrible tempest
The crew is your pod, the waves are your blockers, etc. etc.
Weekly meetings can be the source of much stress, especially when you need to share bad news… which may explain why that one colleague only has “audio problems” come the weekly status meeting™.
On the day of reckoning, it’s time to level with your stakeholders. Most likely, they’ll have some notion of how your project is going because you are consistently communicating with them, but the weekly status meeting is your chance to provide Management and Stakeholders with a “path to green,” alternatives or opportunities to get the project back on track.
Minding your audience
Countless corporate self-help books have said it, but it’s worth restating here: start with the positive. Once you’ve conveyed the achievements and progress made in the past week, subsequent negative points can be conveyed as “needing additional analysis,” “work in progress,” etc.
When talking through your laundry list, should you be concise or verbose? If a situation has been previously hashed out, it is best to skip out on the details. If the issue is new or particularly knotty, it’s worth spending a little longer explaining what it’s about, albeit a breakout session may be necessary with the appropriate audience.
Also, know the sequence: perhaps there will be three or four other project managers presenting updates. If you are the last one to go, prepare to be concise. Maybe you will “get off lucky,” i.e., the allocated meeting time will run out before you have to present or give your full details.
Some issues are even better left unsaid. If the meeting occurs on a Wednesday and you have a milestone due on Friday, will you complete the deliverable by Friday? In this case, the answer is probably not, I won’t have time. But you are confident that you can complete it by Tuesday before the next weekly meeting. So perhaps you can mention just very briefly this week, as it doesn’t represent a threat to your overall project, just a milestone date which hasn’t even occurred yet.
Do this at your own risk, as you know your Management and your own Project(s). (Better than we do, at any rate.)
Finally, give acknowledgement to your team. Don’t hesitate to spotlight your team’s strongest work, especially to senior stakeholders.
If there is bad news to tell, your stakeholders are really only interested in what you plan to do about it.
The key is to stay factual and not come “flat-footed.” If you face a blocker that you’ve unsuccessfully tried to resolve on your own, prepare to explain it. When bringing up such a blocker, you have two viable options: 1) ask for guidance or 2) propose a solution that requires your stakeholders’ help in a specific way. The need for escalation doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the project manager, as there are plenty of external factors that fall outside of your control. However, it’s important to state all the facts and know when (and how) to ask for help so that you can quickly move forward from the blocker.
That’s it, you’re ready to weather the storm. Remember that you’re no neurosurgeon, so no one is going to die, nor are you a lion tamer, so no one’s arm is getting bitten off — though as a Project/Scrum Manager, you do herd cats.
This article was written by Olympe Scherer and Frank Donatelli, Senior PM — Data Specialist, and edited by Sonia Bolshakova, Business Development Manager at Arrayo.