A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Forty-Three—What’s on the Agenda? Let’s Keep it That Way!

I confess. I’m an anal-retentive clock-watcher. Most of the family members in this photo share that common trait. If we’re going out to lunch at noon, that actually means noon.  In my years of training, I always had a schedule and stuck to the schedule. If I said the next break was going to occur at 11:30, it would occur at 11:30. Not 11:29.  Not 11:31.  11:30. Of all of the compliments I received from students through the years, the most consistent was, Loved the way Carl stuck to the schedule.

Human beings love being clairvoyant. They love to believe they know what’s coming in the future. If the future is predictable, then it can be controlled, or at least our reactions to the future can be controlled. We have all been in the meeting where the clock was just about to expire and the host said, Before we break, I did want to cover one more thing… While a deep groan is not generally acceptable meeting etiquette, the silent mental groan is commonplace.

I learned to serve the clock (and the topics on the schedule) while I was still in radio. At WZYQ, Frederick, MD, we carried Paul Harvey News and Comment. Paul Harvey was live at noon. There was no way to slip out a little early or conclude late. Noon. Hard stop. Our newcast began at 11:50, and was scheduled for ten minutes. It was also live. That was my job. Cover the news, sports and local weather and end precisely at noon.  The moment noon arrived, a voice would come booming through the live feed channel with Paul Harvey, News and Comment.  Now. Paul Harvey News. I took great pride in being able to nail the 12 o’clock hour day after day, week after week.  If I missed by even a second, my peers in the studio would notice. So I didn’t miss.

Lesson Learned: As I mentioned back in Segment 27, the key is being able to shut up. But it’s also having clarity on the agenda, and on the content to be covered. If you know how much ground you have to cover, then you’ll know how you can cover it and still hit the appointed hour. The mistake is often not having a realistic expectation on how much time to allot for a given topic.  There are two solutions.  The first is to extend the planned discussion times on the agenda so that you can “steal” time back from yourself as the meeting goes on. The other is to identify agenda items as mandatory or ATA (as time allows). More often than not, meeting planners try to cram in too many critical agenda items for the allotted schedule. You can’t fit 50 pounds of potatoes in a 20-pound sack. If people feel rushed because of the countless agenda items, they’ll point to poor planning.

Outcome-based Meetings/Agenda Items

If you’re looking for a way to declare success in meetings, consider the outcome-based approach. It goes beyond simply listing discussion points and when they will occur in the meeting. It goes to achievement. It defines what “done” looks like. Consider the following two agenda items:

New Client Introduction

TPS Report Abuses

Either of those could go on forever. Even if you don’t HAVE a TPS Report (and some of you have seen Office Space, so you get the joke), you can imagine someone whining about the challenges of getting people to fill out the form and complete it properly. Either of these items should last forever. But there are ways to set expectations and stem that tide.

New Client Introduction – approx. 7 minutes – Betty will lead the discussion on the new Acme client and the contractual promises made to-date. Complete when the contract deliverables are reviewed and any questions about the nature of the relationship are answered.

TPS Report Abuses – approx. 15 minutes – Bill Lumbergh will identify six common abuses of the TPS reporting system, and the means to overcome them.

Look what’s there.  The timing. The owner. The outcome. Win. Win. Win. It’s not just about work, either.  Apply these same principles to relationships and encounters, and it’s one more win.

Lesson Learned: If you find yourself potentially trapped on a phone call, apply these same principles, even if you must do it midstream. After a particularly grueling “chat” with an old peer, about 20 minutes into the call, I stressed to him that I had a hard stop at noon (which was about 10 minutes away). I told him I wasn’t trying to cut him off (although I was) and I wanted to ensure we talked about anything he really felt we needed to cover. The beauty was that he became my ally in getting off the phone.  At about a minute before noon, he said “I know you have to go.  And we can do it again sometime.  Great to be back in touch”.

Paul Harvey News and Comment.  It was 12:00 noon.

We actually facilitate and build relationships when we establish boundaries. Those boundaries can be the clock, the topics, and the owners. Those boundaries can be the goals and the achievements. With clear goals and clear achievements for our communications, we all actually know what victory looks like.

Win. Win.

Up next?  If I could fix ONE thing…

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.