How to run better status meetings
Project status meetings are an indispensable tool for project managers everywhere. They let the whole project team get together to discuss updates and milestones, decide on the next steps, overcome roadblocks, and assign action items.
In short, well-run status meetings help team members get on the same page so everyone has clarity and can accomplish the project goal.
Bad status meetings, though….
Image Source: Giphy
One of the main responsibilities in project management is to avoid chaos — so here’s a guide on how to do just that. We’ll go over the best practices to help you and your team run better status meetings.
What is a status meeting?
A status meeting is an online or in-person team meeting where you discuss the latest updates on a specific project. Most often these project meetings involve just the team working on the project, but, when necessary, you can also hold them with clients or stakeholders.
During a status meeting, the project manager will assess the status of these elements:
Tasks (follow up on overdue tasks, discuss roadblocks, etc.)
Timeline (is the team ahead of or behind schedule?)
Budget (over or under?)
Scope (is the team maintaining the original project scope?)
Current and anticipated roadblocks (such as changes, risks, vendor issues, etc.)
Most teams hold these meetings weekly, but you should choose a schedule that works best for you.
What’s the purpose of a status meeting?
Effective status meetings are a benefit for project managers and team members alike. For managers, the purpose of the meeting is to get timely updates and an overview of the status of the project. For the rest of the team, the status meeting is a chance to get clarity, discuss issues, share information, and recognize achievements.
Many people have come out against holding status meetings, in part because of the rise of asynchronous communication, which lets team members update the project manager through tools like Asana, Slack, or Trello.
Remember: If your status meetings run long and don’t add any value to attendees, they can easily become a waste of time. Avoid this by making sure that real-time meetings are devoted to issues that need the whole team present. Quick updates and one-off questions are best shared using async communication tools.
8 best practices to run effective status meetings
Your monthly or weekly status meeting will run more smoothly if you follow these best practices. Time to say goodbye to stressful and unproductive status meetings and hello to a productive and effective meeting culture.
1. Define your meeting’s purpose
We’ve all been there – that meeting that should have been an email. A one-off bad meeting isn’t the end of the world, but recurring meetings that go nowhere and only waste time are a drain on morale and resources.
To prevent this, you have to make sure your status meetings have a clear purpose. And no, “I need a status update” isn’t reason enough. You can get a simple status update in a Slack message, yet you’re asking the team to take time out of their busy schedules to meet. Not good.
GIF Source: Giphy
For instance, the purpose of the meeting could be to review outstanding tasks, get unblocked, and prioritize them as a team in your project management tool. Or it could be to figure out if more scope needs to be added to a project to complete it effectively.
This purpose will then guide the structure of the meeting, the invite list, and the meeting agenda.
2. Have a meeting agenda (and keep it simple!)
Status meetings should always have agendas to communicate the purpose of the meeting and let all attendees know in advance what to expect.
The keys to a good project status meeting agenda are simplicity and consistency. Early in the project’s lifecycle, you should decide on the main agenda items — some examples:
Here’s what to focus on in a status update meeting:
Monitoring project progress: will the team complete the project on time?
Overcoming problems: the team can work to overcome any roadblocks or issues together as a group, which is often more effective than individual problem-solving.
Updating and prioritizing tasks:status meetings are the time to update tasks in your project management system and act if you notice someone’s falling behind or has an unmanageable workload.
Setting goals and planning next steps: take stock of your OKRs (objectives and key results) and look at the big picture to guide decision-making – do any of the OKRs need to be adjusted or do you need to add new ones?
Whatever items you end up including in the agenda, make sure to keep it simple and add a time limit beside each one. Vowel makes it easy to create thoughtful agendas with a selection of meeting agenda templates to choose from and customize (you can always write your own from scratch, too). And you can add timers by typing /timer beside each agenda item!
3. Promote team accountability
As project manager, you rely on your team members to finish their tasks and action items on time.
But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the reasons why a task is overdue are understandable and unavoidable (e.g. they’re waiting on something from someone else). Other times, lateness stems from a lack of team accountability.
When there’s no accountability, team members are much more likely to hide potential issues and concerns until the last minute. Before you know it, overdue tasks pile up, derailing the entire project.
A lack of accountability is bad for morale, too. If team members notice that people who slack off aren’t reprimanded, they might conclude that being late is fine. All this reduces the project manager’s credibility.
These are some ways to boost team accountability in your status meetings:
Start every status meeting with a review: begin the meeting by having each team member update the group on their current status but make sure you keep updates to 1-2 mins max for each person. These check-ins are good for transparency and people will be more likely to finish work on time if they know they have to report their progress to the entire group.
Review deadlines in the meeting: If deadlines have passed without deliverables, review them in the meeting and ask the owner why the deadline hasn't been met.
Assign due dates: all tasks and action items should have a deadline that’s documented in your project management software. Make sure to make deadlines realistic based on the scope of work and the team member’s other responsibilities. If you’re assigning dates in the meeting, ask team members, “Does this date sound doable?” to get feedback.
4. Discuss past and future tasks and action items
At the status meeting, you must make sure discussions don’t get too long. Using the look back–look forward technique will help.
With look back–look forward, you’re discussing action items from the last and next time frames. For example, if your status meetings are monthly, you’ll be talking about action items from the last month and next month.
With this approach, your discussions will offer historical context for the current state of affairs and also highlight any team-member wins from the previous period.
Here’s how to implement the look back–look forward approach:
Make a project schedule that focuses on preceding and upcoming periods
Highlight key milestones and achievements on the schedule
Summarize the main events that led to the current status
Ask team members for their opinion about the potential issues and risks for the upcoming period
In Vowel, it’s easy to assign and track action items — here’s a quick look at how it works:
Keep in mind that looking back and looking forward is meant to be a tool to focus the conversation, not limit it. If other issues arise, team members should feel free to mention them.
5. Leave room for ideas
Status update meetings happen regularly and have a set agenda, so they can become same-y and unengaging. If team members aren’t engaged, they’re probably not contributing their best ideas for solving problems and avoiding roadblocks.
That’s why, when it comes to meetings that need to solve a problem in a project or make a decision, you could consider allowing some time for ideation. To do this, use frameworks like brainstorming, brainwriting, or time-boxing. The ideas that team members come up with might just help your project get to where it needs to be.
Keep in mind that the ideation process should feel natural, so try not to force it.
6. Keep your meetings organized
Recurring meetings are easy to get lost in if you don’t keep things tidy. We all know the chore of hunting through endless email threads for that one critical piece of information.
If you use Vowel as your meeting tools, this becomes MUCH easier. Vowel has built-in collaborative notes and automatic transcription, so creating meeting minutes is automated.
You can also keep related meetings in shared folders for easy access and reference. That’s great for project managers since they typically hold a lot of status meetings with different teams.
7. Prioritize efficiency
Inevitably, status meetings eat into the productive time of your team members. Yes, it’s important to discuss how the project’s going, but it’s even more important to work on it.
That’s why you should focus on making the meeting efficient: doing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time with the smallest number of people necessary.
Here’s what to do to make status meetings more efficient:
Don’t waste time reading out reports and documents – send these out async so attendees can go over them in their own time
Assign a timekeeper to remind everyone when the time set aside for each agenda item is about to expire
Invite only those who need to be there
Prepare a standard task update form that task leaders can complete before the meeting
8. Encourage feedback
Unproductive meetings can quickly become time-wasters and negatively impact team productivity.
One of the best ways to discover what could be improved is to ask your meeting attendees. After the first couple of meetings, you can send out an anonymous survey. Have your team members rate (positive, negative, or neutral) the following:
Quality of discussion
5 things that can ruin a status update meeting
In addition to following the best practices, look out for things that can easily derail your status meetings:
❌ Poor agendas: Status meetings without agendas devolve into an unfocused mess. Your agenda should be complete and clear with specific items and time limits for each item. That way, team members know what to expect and can come to the meeting prepared.
❌ Lack of time management: Here’s a hellish scenario – status meetings start dragging on and on without much being accomplished, so team members start skipping them, and eventually, no one has a clue what’s going on with the project. What a mess! Make sure to do what you can to manage time effectively, from having an agenda to appointing a meeting facilitator to keep everyone in check.
❌ Poor handling of action items: Action items are the tool project managers use to assign follow-up tasks based on issues raised during the status meeting. Often, these action items aren’t documented and are mentioned only in passing, which means there’s a lack of tracking and ownership. To solve this, always assign action items in writing with an owner and a due date. You can easily do this in Vowel by adding action items to the meeting notes. Team members can see their action items on their Vowel dashboard (or add them to a project management tool of choice).
❌ Unprepared attendees: Some team members think that the only contribution they need to make is showing up. They wing their status update, speculate on issues, and so cause delay. Communicate to your team members that preparing for the status update is mandatory — and tell them exactly how to do it. What format should status updates be in and how are they shared?
❌ Losing scope of the meeting: A common cause of unproductive status meetings is discussing topics that aren’t on the agenda. Letting one agenda item dominate the conversation is also bad. Avoid this with Vowel’s built-in agendas (with timers!).
Hold better status meetings with the right tool
A good status meeting is invaluable for any project manager. It lets them take stock of the project’s progress and address issues and workloads before they escalate.
But a status meeting can easily become unproductive and waste everyone’s time by running too long or being attended by people who are either unprepared or lack accountability.
Avoid all these issues by choosing the right tool to power your virtual meetings. Vowel has everything you need built in: meeting agendas, cloud recordings, automatic transcriptions, agenda timers, and more!
You’ll forget the meaning of the words “zoom plug-in” and “add-on” if you sign up now for free.