Introducing Michael Zipursky The Lucid Meetings team is delighted to welcome our newest contributor, Michael Zipursky. Our CEO met Michael when she was interviewed for his Consulting Success podcast. After the interview, Michael shared how implementing the simple meeting process described below helped the consultants he works with reduce drama and retain happy clients.
It's a perfect example of how powerful it can be when you have a consistent structure for your meetings, and how you don't have to over-complicate things to get great results.
In this post, Michael share the 3-step framework that's helped hundreds of consultants build trust with clients. — Team Lucid
Do you feel nervous before meeting with your consulting clients? If so, chances are you aren’t well-prepared.
With proper preparation and a specific agenda, your meetings will be productive and stress-free. Not only will this make your life easier, but your clients will appreciate it as well.
In this article, I’ll explain a simple 3-part framework you can use for your client meetings. This framework works especially well if you’re working with clients on an ongoing basis.
After reading, you’ll know how to run the perfect consulting meeting — and how to leverage meetings into more consulting work.
Before & After Using The Meeting Agenda: Jane’s Story
Jane never felt quite comfortable during meetings with her client.
Sure, she was delivering on the project just fine — but these meetings with the client were a sticking point. She wasn’t sure what the purpose of the meeting was. She went into them hoping for the best.
Without a clear structure to the meeting, it was hard for her client to see progress. They even started to doubt her value.
We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.
These meetings go by many names - postmortems, retrospectives, after-action reviews, wrap-ups, project “success” meetings. Regardless of what you call them, they all have the same goal and follow the same basic pattern. The Project Retrospective dedicates time to reviewing a completed project and learning from both the successes and the failures so the team and organization can improve how they work going forward.
Formalized as the after-action review by the US Army, these meetings ensure a team quickly learns from each engagement.
There, the classic questions go something like:
What did we set out to do?
What actually happened?
Why did it happen?
What are we going to do next time?
The Core Process
The process for debriefing a project covers roughly the same topics as the quick after-action discussion. I’ll go into more detail below, but in brief, it looks like this.
1. Review the project.
Start by reviewing the project facts: goals, timeline, budget, major events, and success metrics.
In order to come up with useful ideas that everyone can agree on, the team needs a shared understanding of the facts and insight into the parts of the project in which they may not have been involved.
It’s important not to skip or rush through this step, especially for larger projects. People will arrive at the retrospective ready to discuss and solve problems, often assuming they know everything they need to know about what happened. This is rarely true.
If you are reviewing a project as a team, that means it took many people with unique experiences to get to that point. This step ensures everyone gets all the facts straight before they try to solve problems they may only partially understand.
2. Discuss what worked well and what didn’t.
This is the heart of the meeting. Everyone shares what they learned during the project: both the good and the bad.
In my opinion, this is the most fun and most challenging part of the meeting. As the meeting leader, you have an enormous impact on the success of your retrospective by deciding which questions you’ll ask and how the team shares their answers.
3. Action planning: identify specific ways to improve future work.
Have you ever worked with a group that talks about their aspirations, problems, and what needs to change, but never actually does anything about any of it?
That sucks. It’s de-motivating, discouraging, and a waste of time.
Real change is the ultimate measure of a retrospective’s success. To ensure that your retrospective results in something actually getting better, you’ll end the meeting by creating a specific action plan for improvements.
The economy hasn’t completely turned around yet, but it is getting better. Unemployment rates are slowly going down, foreclosures are dropping, and house values are finally going up again.
But it still isn’t easy to find a job – you’ll know this if you’ve applied to any in the last year or so. It’s still tough and there are still a lot of jobs you apply for and never hear about again even though you looked like a perfect match.
And those others where you interviewed and maybe were even a finalist and then…nothing…or a surprising flush.
Have you ever had a project client come to you and say, “Can we implement this a month sooner than we originally planned?” No, that never happens…right? As a technical project manager, if something similar hasn’t already happened to you, trust me, it will.
There are probably some variations you can think of on these three based on different technology, but this about covers it.
Now, consider you’re working with a remote team – you’re the project manager and your team is geographically dispersed so you’re never co-located…you may never be throughout the entire project engagement.
I’ve worked several projects like this where I never even met any members of my team face-to-face during the entire project.
How do you keep virtual team meetings cohesive and focused during such a project? How do you make sure everyone is working their respective tasks and you’re consistently getting closer to a working end solution? Are meetings important?
Communication is always critical and meetings are probably more important than ever on an engagement like the one I’m describing here.
When you’re running meetings where everyone is remote and may never meet face-to-face, there are three things you need to ensure are always happening…