Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beware “the Meeting Guy”

If you want an effective project team, then you need to ensure everyone on the team is able to make the right things happen. This is especially important on projects which are in critical phases or are suffering through a painful spot with your clients/stakeholders. You can’t get through tough spots in a project if members of that team have to constantly run back to their supervisory chain to get approval for every decision, or if they can’t help you get roadblocks out of the way.

Sometimes it’s apparent that a member of the team was put there for no other reason than to have a token presence at the table. That member has no authority to make decisions and is unable to commit to anything because they’re constantly having to go elsewhere to get approval for fundamental actions. There’s a great term used to describe these people: “The Meeting Guy.” (Or “The Meeting Gal” if you prefer.)

I’ve run in to this a couple times in my career, and it’s never pleasant. You need someone to bust through impediments, and instead you’re saddled with someone who never delivers on anything because they can’t make anything happen. The Meeting Guy may be a wonderful, happy person, but at the end of the day they’re an impediment to the success of your project.

Having The Meeting Guy on your team is frustrating because your project’s progress suffers. Worse yet, this may be a dangerous sign of a lack of commitment from your client or stakeholder: they may not care enough about the project to fully support it. The worst of all situations might have someone seeking to actively sabotage the effort by saddling the project with a Meeting Guy – thankfully a situation I’ve never run in to.

Identifying the Meeting Guy

Sometimes it’s obvious right away if The Meeting Guy is on your team; other times it may take a few iterations/releases/weeks or an outright crisis to unmask the person. Daily standups are the biggest help in determining if you’re saddled with a Meeting Guy. Is someone on the team regularly missing commitments with reasons like “I’m waiting on <x> to give me approval for <y>,” or “We’re blocked on that while I coordinate with <z>?” Potential Meeting Guy.

Note that I said “regularly.” Stuff happens, and not everyone can get every roadblock instantly out of the way. Meeting Guys/Gals are repeat offenders.

Dealing with the Meeting Guy

There are no easy answers when you’re stuck with The Meeting Guy. You have to get communication flowing to find out what the real issue is – because The Meeting Guy is a symptom, not a root cause.

You need to have a frank, open  discussion with your project’s stakeholders and potentially with the project’s executive sponsors. Take a breath and leave your frustrations behind. Approach the conversation from the business value aspect: “We’re not able to deliver the amount of value we should be because we’re not able to get through roadblocks in a timely fashion. Having the right people committed to the team will help us deliver more quickly.”

What’s the Root Cause?

You also need to step back and re-evaluate the need for the project. If stakeholders and sponsors won’t get the right people at the table, is there actually a real need for the project? Perhaps the business environment has changed and the project isn’t as high a priority any more. That’s not an easy topic to bring up with the people responsible for the project, but it’s a hard question that you need to get answered. Again, approach it from the business value aspect: “If the business situation’s changed so much, maybe we should stop this project and figure out a better place to spend our time and effort. What other cool things can we do for the business?”

Never, ever approach these conversations with a demanding mindset or tone. Yes, you need to clearly identify impediments and risks, but you can’t slip over in to metaphorical hostage taking or blackmail!

These are tough conversations to have with the people and organizations responsible for the project, but you must have them. Something is preventing you from delivering the best business value to the client/organization/stakeholders. Find the root cause, solve it, and focus on helping your organization/clients get the best value for their money!


Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree
It is important when you work in a team to have a common agreement on every aspect of design / architecture, for the design that will effect others.
if your design will be used, or will effect someone else, then you should and you have to talk to them and get a common understanding and agreement.
It doesn't have to be in a formal meeting that takes time. it could be just a small chat for few minutes.
and it doesn't have to be a supervisor, because most of the times it is your co-workers, and few times it is someone who has an authorization level.
You should not and never work alone, taking decisions on your own.
In my experience this is the worst.

Jim Holmes said...

You're completely missing what I'm talking about. Nowhere did I speak about working alone -- I'm talking about a TEAM empowered to get things done.

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