When you're juggling a project that spans several departments or people, keeping track of what to tell and to whom can be a huge task. But with the right tool, used the right way, it becomes as easy as pie (and for the record, pie is pretty easy).
How do you manage a meeting agenda across many different people with many different priorities?
The answer: It's like juggling cats.
But with the right tool, you'll have adorable little Mittens and her 19 brothers and sisters purring contentedly in the palm of your hand.
My first project management job was managing the team that created the Quicken Visa Card. My programmers—Jason, Jeff, and Joseph—were writing the code to let Intuit's other products import the credit card data. It had to work with Quicken for Mac, Quicken for DOS (remember DOS?), and the upcoming versions of Quicken for Mac and DOS. Those projects all belonged to someone else. Each had a different schedule, a different code base, and different priorities. The only thing they had in common is that none of them wanted to help me or my team at all. (My therapist and I are still working through this.)
I tried to buy their love by keeping everyone in the loop. People like being in the loop, right? The bank that generated the credit card data would change their file format by a single letter. I dutifully wanted to make sure that everyone knew about the change. I'd make sure to tell Jason on my team and Alex on the Quicken for DOS team. And then...I'd tell Jeff, and maybe remember to mention something to Mario, and...well, things would fall through the cracks.>
You Can't Leave a Meeting Agenda to Chance
If you have one tiny team, with one tiny project, you can keep everything in your head. When you're coordinating across teams, across projects, and across people, you need a system. Your system must guarantee everyone who needs to know, gets to know everything that's relevant to them.
My tool of choice was Lotus Agenda. It was one of the most flexible, awesome, incredible pieces of software ever invented by the human race. Its manager was an amazing woman named Beth Macy, who is still in the business and is now a Scrum Master Extraordinaire (if you're not a software geek, rest assured that even though "Scrum Master" sounds like something that crawled out of Mordor, it's not. Being a Scum Master means you kick butt and take no prisoners in the pursuit of awesomeness!).
With almost no effort, the right information made its way to the right people at the right time.
Anyway, Lotus Agenda was great because it was optimized for super rapid use; it was designed to minimize typing. If you were keeping track of a home renovation, you would define categories like bedroom, office, and patio. Then you'd simply type a text snippet, "Must get new latches for the office window." The snippet would be magically appear in the office category. When it was time to renovate the office, you would just pull up the office category and see everything you'd typed involving the office.
Categorize Your Meeting Agenda by Person
I was clever. Instead of bedrooms and offices, I set up categories for each person on my team, and each project manager I dealt with. My categories were Jason, Jeff, Joseph, Alex, and Mario. The next time the bank changed their data format, I just typed "Tell Joseph that the data format has changed. Make sure Alex and Mario know this will push the schedule back by a week."
Voila! Magically, that text snippet appeared in the Joseph, Alex, and Mario categories. Next time a meeting was scheduled with any of the guys, calling up that person's category gave a list of all the topics we needed to discuss. After the discussion, it was simple to remove the snippet from that category. Once it was no longer in any categories, it could be marked as Done.
This worked like a charm! With almost no effort, the right information made its way to the right people at the right time.
Form Meeting Agendas for Group Meetings
Then I realized that information isn't just needed with specific people, but also with certain meetings. Our weekly product development meeting might care about the bank's shenanigans, since that one-letter change could have ripple effects that might doom every project in the company.
Creating a new category called PD Meeting was the solution. Now the snippet could read "Make sure Alex, Mario, and the PD Meeting know about the schedule change" and when it's time for the status meeting, the meeting agenda will be at my fingertips. In my current life as a consultant, we have regular status meetings with clients, so categories like Miley-Cyrus-Meeting come in handy.