Reviewing our work

Talking shop or brain wave?

I was recently invited to a meeting reviewing a large piece of work that had been seen by the council as a priority. The project board for this project was, at a time, huge. The meeting room we used had 15 chairs in it and I’m sure they had, more or less, always been full in previous meetings.

However, this time there were six people in the room and one of them was me (a guest/neutral there for just the review). As if to back this up the apologies list at the beginning of the meeting was long and I began to wonder whether the project was taken that seriously at all.

It turns out, happily, that the project was taken very seriously indeed, but with one caveat; it was taken seriously whilst the project was going on.

It’s easy to see why people were keen to engage early on. The members of staff involved were willing to come to a meeting, and indeed contribute to a project whilst the actual ‘work’ was going on. There would be tasks to complete, things to feedback on and an agenda to influence. As the old saying goes; ‘you can’t complain about the outcome if you don’t take part.’

However, as soon as the project delivered its main chunk of ‘deliverable’ (jargon alert) it seems that the majority of people checked out. And why not? After all, most of the major work is done now and what is left to do? Plus, if the meeting is going to be just a talking shop with no ‘outcomes’ to influence then why bother?

I find this very disappointing.

Review meetings should be the one meeting that everyone in the project team gets involved in. A good review meeting (and it doesn’t always need to be a meeting) is a chance to:

1)    Look at what went wrong and work out how to do it better next time: During a project, while people might moan, in general we all just get on with the work and make the best of the situation. This can mean that the powers that be never get to hear about the major problems or more likely the minor niggles that if we don’t get sorted will simply repeat on us again and again.

2)    Plan for the future: It is very unusual that a council will ever do a project like this in isolation. There’ll always be something to follow and yet too often the one project won’t lead to the next. Take the chance to think about what should be done next.

3)    Celebrate success: You know what; these projects, and especially the big ones, can be incredibly stressful and put a big strain on the people involved. This sort of wrap up meeting is a good chance to say well done, pat ourselves on the back and spend some time celebrating the successes we achieved.

I think part of the scepticism of the people who otherwise would attend is that meetings have got a bit of a bad name of late. Today is not the day for this discussion but sometimes it is fine to have a meeting where we don’t want simple outcomes but want to think, discuss and reflect. If every meeting was like this it would be a disaster but every now and again and as long as they have a purpose this kind of meeting can be really beneficial.

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One Comment on “Reviewing our work”

  1. Tom Phillips Says:

    I can relate to this. I was involved with organising a very successful conference a year ago which failed totally to follow through on the issues discussed and agreed. Trying to build review and formal evaluation into the timeline was just about impossible. Too much emphasis on the needs of the event itself and lots of “lets see how it goes first” comments. In that respect, holding it on a Friday probably didn’t help. By Monday, don’t these things sometimes become a distant memory?

    We love the plotting, resource juggling, sharing out the jobs (note I didn’t say “delegation” there) and the occasionally heart in mouth/seat of the pants delivery of The Plan. But then, so often, we seem to lie back contented for the equivalent of the post-coital cigarette.

    Is this perhaps a particular problem with one off events? I’m not persuaded that the problem is one with “meetings” per se, but with a culture so busy getting ready to tick of the next challenge on the list that it has become bad at learning what it learned.

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