What is a monthly project review meeting and what should it cover?

I've been tasked to set up a monthly project meeting. What is the purpose of such a meeting, who attends, and why is it held?
The monthly project review meeting is a powerful method of delivering project status to executive management and other stakeholders, refreshing with them the major bullets of the project vision, reaffirming their commitment to the vision (or identifying any emerging issues with the vision), and cross-pollinating with other projects and with supporting functional groups.

The key elements of an efficient monthly review process are the following:

  • One person is the meeting champion. He/she is responsible for driving the meeting, keeping it on time, and enforcing the correct process.
  • Each project manager gives a short presentation of his/her project's status in front of his/her project management peers, executive management, and function group management.
  • Dialogs of short questions, clarifications, and short discussions are allowed (and encouraged). Longer discussions are taken off-line as recorded action items.
  • Attendance by executive management, functional group leaders, and other stakeholders is mandatory. Absentees send a representative who can speak for the absentee.
  • Attendance by all project managers for all presentations can be mandatory, or (for larger organizations) their attendance for presentations other than their own can be their judgment call.
  • Team members can attend at their discretion.
  • Keep to a presentation schedule that is published a day or two in advance, along with copies of all slides if possible (or, copies available on the day of the meeting). Limit the time for presentations and discipline yourselves to take issues off-line for discussion.
  • Have a standardized reporting format that everyone uses—no exceptions. Present the slides in the same order. Here's an example of what to report:
    • First slide: Two columns—progress last month and expected progress next month.
    • Second slide: Two columns—current issues, and plans to deal with them. Try to bring problem-solution pairs to this meeting; try not to bring problems without proposed solutions.
    • Third slide: Milestone schedule. Use a standard format that visually shows both a baseline schedule and also the current actual schedule.
    • Fourth slide: Other key metrics and attributes that are important in your organization, such as current product target Cost Of Goods Sold and Average Sales Price, key system performance parameters, etc.

The key complaint about such large monthly meetings is that even when they are efficiently run and cover a large number of projects in a short period of time they are still expensive. The meetings tie up critical management resources for half a day to a day in the meeting itself, and meeting preparation time is a further hit on project managers.

But an interesting thing happens in organizations that implement such meetings. A few days before the meeting, the activity within project teams often begins to accelerate. When you are about to go up in front of your peers and management and make a presentation, you want to have that next milestone nailed and as many ducks lined up as you can on issues and solutions. Those extra pushes in project effort can easily "pay" for the overhead time to prepare for the meeting. Using standardized slide formats can further decrease this preparation time. And the value of delivering status with a short dialog, refreshing stakeholders on their commitments to the vision, and cross-pollination of projects and functional groups is a big return on the investment of time in these meetings.

The sanity check questions to ask yourself about your organization's monthly project reviews are these: Is it truly increasing understanding of and recognition for what the project is doing? Is it thereby helping you get what you need from the executives? Is the meeting helping ferret out any misunderstandings between groups? Is it helping you get the resources you need from other functional groups? Yes, executives need status and they usually make this meeting happen. As a project manager, you need recognition for the team and what it's accomplishing, and direct and effective help as needed. Make sure your monthly review is serving that purpose.

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