Do You Make These 9 Meeting Mistakes?

There is a colossal amount of time wasted in meetings. Despite all the talk about improving meetings, there are some very common meeting mistakes. Correcting them can do wonders for your personal productivity and the productivity of everyone you interact with in your organization.

Let’s be sure you are not making any of these most common meeting mistakes!

#1 – Failure to visibly tie the meeting to a project milestone. The vast majority of the meetings you facilitate and participate in as a business analyst should be working meetings, which means real work gets done and progress gets made. You need to specifically connect the purpose of the meeting to project progress.

#2 – Not sending an agenda and appropriate deliverables in advance. Sure, not everyone will review the agenda or the deliverables, but sending them anyway shows that you are prepared and ready to facilitate an effective working meeting. Not sending them tells a stakeholder that it’s very likely her time will be wasted as there is no plan for this meeting.

Tip: If you are in an environment where you must schedule meetings well in advance, schedule the meeting with a clear objective and indicate when you’ll be sending a follow-up communication with the full agenda and deliverables.

Don’t have a clear objective? Then you are making mistake #3.

#3 – Failure to have a clear objective for the meeting. It’s not enough to have an agenda; the agenda should be designed to achieve a specific objective and that objective should help achieve a specific project milestone. For example, if your project milestone is to baseline requirements for a specific feature, your objective might be any of the following:

  • Discover the as is business processes around the new feature;
  • Identify ways to improve the technology to streamline the business process;
  • Validate the new requirements are ready for technical implementation.

#4 – Failure to communicate how the meeting connects to the project progress to meeting participants. If you fully connect the meeting agenda to the objective and the objective to the project progress, you are on the right track. But if your meeting participants do not understand this connection, then they might not be motivated to participate.

Tip: I often open each meeting with a brief statement establishing.  For example:

“To date, we’ve understood the business process, brainstormed ideas for improving functionality, and completed an initial requirements review of an early draft. I’ve incorporated all the input you’ve provided and we now have a fairly solid requirements specification. Today we’re going to do a final walk-through of these requirements and make sure we haven’t overlooked anything. The IT team is slated to start development next week and we need to be able to provide clear requirements that they can work from, otherwise the project could be pushed out.”

With these few simple sentences you put today’s objective in the context of what’s already been done, recognized the importance of participant feedback, and communicated a sense of urgency.

#5 – Sticking relentlessly to an agenda. Agendas are extremely important. But something awesome happens when you facilitate working meetings. New information surfaces. In the process of discovering all of the requirements, you and the participants learn. That means that the agenda you went in with may not be the best agenda. The point of the meeting is not to walk through every agenda item. The point is to achieve an objective.

Tip: Be open to alternative paths to the end goal. If your plan is not going to work, revise the plan. This can be hard to do “live” during the meeting. My trick? Stop and ask the attendees for advice. It gives you a minute to think and they may just have a great idea!

#6 – Investing too much time trying to get technology working. I still cringe thinking about times I’ve seen co-workers working through technology issues while several participants sit idly by. Nothing raises my blood pressure more than what it happens to me! If you regularly start meetings more than 5 minutes late because of technology issues, you need to make a change. That stakeholder time is money and productivity going down the drain for your organization.

#7 – Forging ahead without critical stakeholders involved. It’s difficult to cancel a meeting just because someone doesn’t show up (especially if meetings are milestones, which I’ll get to next), but consider what happens when you move ahead without all the right people involved. Invariably, if they are an important, influential stakeholder (which tend to be the people who don’t show up because they are double or triple booked), their voice will get heard…but much later in the process. By that time you may have invested hours in requirements based on incomplete information. And, when their voice is heard, it’s not only you who have to back-track, but everyone who did attend your original meetings. So now you are doubly punishing the people who actually showed up and were ready to participate when you needed them the first time around.

My advice? Cancel the meeting. If this means you slip on a date, explain why. It might take a few schedule slips to get your message across, but in the long-run this one technique can directly influence the productivity of everyone you touch in your organization. Yes, this takes tact and your approach is going to depend heavily on your organization’s dynamics.

#8 – Making meetings milestones. When you do real work and everyone is in attendance, then meetings help you achieve project milestones. But that doesn’t mean that one equals the other. A BA I met in New Jersey faced this issue. His PMs listed meetings as milestones on the project plan. Then, when a critical stakeholder didn’t show up, they’d move ahead anyway as to not fall behind schedule. But then when the critical stakeholder decided to get involved in the project, they’d change many of the decisions that had been made, causing the schedule to slip. Don’t get locked into this mindset, it will burn you every time.

#9 – Not closing the meeting with a next step. This is the quickest way to help stakeholders learn not to attend your meetings. They attend one meeting with you, never receive any meeting notes and never hear what comes of the information they provided, and surprise, surprise they do not show up to the next one!  Providing a next step shows everyone you value their time and will do something meaningful with the investment they just made.

I know that no one reading this makes all 9 of these mistakes. But finding and correcting even one can have a huge impact on your marketability as a business analyst.

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Comments

  1. Something else that is useful is something called a “Parking Lot”. As a facilitator you put important topics/info that is not “on-topic” on that part of the whiteboard and take a picture of it so it doesn’t get lost.

  2. Dave Schrenk says

    Regarding #6 … If I plan to use technology, I have learned to reserve the location for at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting. I then arrive early with my laptop, projector, etc. to set up and get it running. If it does not work, then we can at least start the meeting on time without everyone sitting idle.

    • Hi Dave,
      That’s a great practice. I use a similar practice and also like to have a paper-based Plan B ready at hand, just in case. Sometimes a quick trip to the copier takes less time that fighting with the technology.

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