Sometimes it seems that our professional lives are spent moving from one meeting to the next. While debates rage as to the effectiveness of meetings in general, and books have been written on meeting organization and management, I’ve found that often meetings go wrong before they even begin because the invitation is missing (or vague in) four critical components, without which the likelihood of full participation and effectiveness is diminished. They are:
- A clear purpose (what we’re trying to accomplish)
- A reason to attend (why we need you there)
- An agenda (a plan for achieving the purpose)
- How/What to Prepare (how you can prepare in advance to ensure our time is well spent)
Each meeting should have a purpose or goal, and that purpose should be clearly explained in the meeting invitation.
“The purpose of this meeting is to determine the tasks and estimates of effort and time required to add feature W to the scope of Project XYZ.”
Stating the purpose in the invitation gives invitees a sense of how their time will be spent, and that the meeting organizer has put some thought into it beforehand.
When a vague, general topic is provided in lieu of a clear purpose, attendees may come with differing ideas on what is to be accomplished around that topic area. This can make meeting management difficult, and participation frustrating for attendees.
Having a clear purpose enables the facilitator to manage to the purpose. If conversation starts to meander off track, he/she can point to the stated objective to get dialog back on course.
2. Reason to Attend
Invitees may have conflicting obligations at a given day or time. To help them decide where there contributions are needed most, it is helpful to explain in the body of the invitation why the invitees have been included on the invitation.
“You are included on this invitation because you are member of the Project XYZ team, or because you have subject matter expertise needed to reach our decision/achieve our objective.”
It isn’t necessary to note reason by individual, we just want attendees to know we didn’t use a scatter gun approach, and each attendee is needed to accomplish the meeting’s purpose.
While it is a good practice to try to limit attendees to those required to reach a decision, or achieve the meeting purpose/objective, you may also want to appeal for assistance in identifying additional attendees that you may have unintentionally omitted from the invitee list, or not known would be critical to the discussion.
Here is an example I might use:
“We’d like to limit attendees to only those required to reach our stated objective(s), but if you notice anyone missing from the invitee list who should participate, please let me know, or forward the invitation to those individuals.”
An invitation should always include a meeting agenda, even if it is tentative or rough.
Providing an agenda demonstrates to invitees that there has been some thought given to an approach for achieving the meeting purpose or objective. By providing an agenda, attendees can provide feedback on additional items that might be added to the agenda.
Here are a few good practices for meeting agendas:
- Provide a brief but adequate description of each agenda item. Ideally, there will be a logical flow to the agenda items.
- Include approximate amount of time for each item – this helps time box and keep the meeting on schedule.
- Include names next to any assigned agenda items requiring preparation or presentation on the part of attendees.
4. How/What to Prepare
Let attendees know of any preparation required on their part to help the meeting run smoothly, and enable to objective of the meeting to be achieved.
Below are a couple examples that illustrate use of the four critical components. As you can see, the invitations does not have to be long to include these elements, but readers will come away with a much better idea of how the time will be spent, whey they are needed, and what is expected of the. If you find these examples useful, feel free to borrow or modify to suit your purpose.
Example 1 – Invitation to a working session
The Business Analysis team has been considering ways to make our requirements product easier for business stakeholders and downstream IT teams to understand and use. We’re also examining our current process and documents for redundancies and other inefficiencies for opportunities to improve.
With that in mind, the objectives of this meeting are to:
- Initiate an ongoing, cross-team dialog on how to improve the communicative value of requirements
- Gather feedback on the current requirements process and documentation, and
- Introduce and discuss a few ideas for improvements we’ve been considering
You’ve been included on this invite as either representing a group that is a direct consumer of requirements, the PMO, or IT leadership. I know there are many others that would be interested in the discussion, but in order to be productive, let’s try to keep the group small, initially.
As agenda items, I’ll walk the group through a few informational slides (~15 min.), and the balance of the time will be for discussion and a few minutes for next steps (~45 min.). You might consider this a requirements gathering session for requirements!
You don’t have to prepare anything specific, but please be prepared to discuss your (and your team’s) thoughts on opportunities to optimize the requirements process and documentation to your benefit.
Example 2 – invitation to a community of practice meeting
This invitation is to serve as a placeholder for our bi-monthly Business Analysis Community of Practice (BACoP) meetings through next June.
You’re included either because your job title falls under the broader “business analysis” umbrella, you have managerial responsibility over analysts, or you have otherwise expressed interest in participating in the group.
If you’d like to be removed from these notifications, or if you know of someone who would be interested in participating that is not on the distribution list, please let me know and we’ll edit the list accordingly.
Bi-monthly meetings will typically follow this agenda:
- 11:30 – 12:00 – Lunch; visiting and networking time.
- 12:00 – 12:15 – Welcome, General announcements or business re: training opportunities, networking opportunities, etc. Recognize first-time attendees.
- 12:15 – 12:45 – Presentation/Discussion topic (a tool, technique, a day in the life of a BA in a given part of the company, a business analysis topic of interest, guest speaker, etc.) We’ll plan to rotate this among groups.
- 12:45 – 1:00 – Wrap-up, suggestions, present/vote on options for next meeting presentation topic, clean-up.
We will update each occurrence with details on the topic of discussion and any logistical changes during the month of the meeting. We just wanted to make sure this was on your calendar in advance so you can plan to work it into your schedules.
Lunch will be provided at community of practice meetings.
Thank you for your participation in and/or support of the community of practice, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at upcoming meetings!
Featured image credit: Richard Rutter.