Episode 77 – Project Kickoff – Heading in the Right Direction

Episode #77
Original Air Date: 03.18.2019

41 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Rich Maltzman

Productive kickoff meetings are central to the success of your project. But, how effective are your planning meetings? What steps should you take before this project kickoff? How do you deal with challenging attendees?

Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart co-authored How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings. A Practical Guide to Ensuring Project Success. If you are tasked with leading project meetings at work or elsewhere, this book offers an extensive look at how to boost your project planning meetings.

Our guest Rich Maltzman, PMP, recently retired from 40 years in the telecom industry, with the last 30 years in a Global PMO role. He’s currently a Senior Lecturer at Boston University, developing and teaching classes in Project Management and Qualitative & Quantitative Decision Making. Rich is the co-founder of EarthPM, LLC - integrating sustainability thinking into project management.

How long should a kickoff meeting last? What topics should be covered? What should the PM prepare in advance? What does it mean to be “Large-and-In-Charge” in your meeting? The team discusses what questions to ask - and who to ask - at the start of a series of planning meetings. Join us to learn how to adroitly maneuver pesky “Meeting Goblins” – those latecomers, complainers, hostile attendees, and more. You’ll laugh and learn during this podcast!

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“you need to just step back and say, “I’m a project manager. I’m going to project manage this meeting.”

- Rich Maltzman

“Are people walking away tasked? Do they go, okay, I’m excited about what I have to do, and I know what I have to do?”

- Rich Maltzman

”…it’s kind of ironic because we’re at the eye of the storm. As project managers, we live and die by meetings.”

- Rich Maltzman

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Project planning meetings for PM’s

Table of Contents

01:24 … Meet Rich
03:58 … Bad Meeting Victims
07:21 … Research
08:44 … Large and in Charge
11:28 … Sponsor Involvement
15:59 … Pre-Meeting Steps
18:56 … Kick-Off Meeting Time Line
20:35 … Risk Register
25:32 … Meeting Goblins
32:46 … Virtual Meetings
35:15 … Naysayers
37:40 … Final Remarks

RICH MALTZMAN:  I think you need to just step back and say, “I’m a project manager.  I’m going to project manage this meeting.”  Seriously, a lot of the same skills that you are applying to your project, you just need to step back and realize that this is a project itself.

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every two weeks we meet to discuss the things that matter to you as a professional project manager.  We’re here for you, to encourage you, to give you some ideas you can use, and to help you get to your best and maintain it.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me is the one who is instrumental in helping us be at our best, Bill Yates.  And Bill, before we get to our guest, we should remind our listeners where our other partner in crime is right now, Andy Crowe.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, Andy Crowe is not in the room.  He is in the water.  He is on a boat, he is..

NICK WALKER:  Not in the water.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s true.  Good point, yeah.  Hopefully he’s on top of the water in his sailing vessel.  So we don’t know exactly where he is, but he’s not here.  If people want to remember, we actually had an episode dedicated to that where we talked with Andy and Karen, Episode 74, for all the details.

NICK WALKER:  And of course we’ll be checking back in with Andy from time to time and probably even talk with him on one of our future podcasts.

Meet Rich

But right now we’ve got a great guest with us today, Rich Maltzman, PMP, recently retired from a 40-year career in the telecom industry, the last 30 years focusing on project management.  He’s currently a senior lecturer at Boston University, developing and teaching classes in project management, and qualitative and quantitative decision-making.  Rich is the cofounder of EarthPM, LLC, a company devoted to integrating sustainability thinking into the project management world.  He has authored or coauthored several books, including “Green Project Management,” which won PMI’s Cleland Award for Literature; “Project Workflow Management:  A Business Process Approach”; and “Bridging the PM Competency Gap.”  His latest book is titled “How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings.”  And that’s much of what we want to focus on today.  Rich, thank you for being with us here on Manage This.

RICH MALTZMAN:   It’s great to be here.

NICK WALKER:  Before we get into the subject of what makes successful planning meetings, let’s find out a little bit more about you.  Now, you spent 40 years in the telecom industry.  How did that prepare you for your work today?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Well, being in industry gets you familiar with all of the kinds of situations.  And I should back up and explain that only 30 years of that was in project management.

NICK WALKER:  Only.

BILL YATES:  Oh, okay.

RICH MALTZMAN:  So a good portion of it was in engineering, and some was in project management, but all of that experience involves meeting with a vast amount of people and a wide variety of different people.  So I’d say that that experience prepared me for, amongst other things, being able to talk, I hope somewhat intelligently, about how meetings can be improved.

NICK WALKER:  And you’re a lecturer at Boston University.  How did that come about?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Well, if you look at my background, even way, way back in the beginning of my career, which ashamedly goes back to the ‘70s, I was doing training back at that time.  And I found I really liked that part of the job.  So even back in the ‘80s I was doing some teaching at local community colleges.  And I found that that was exceedingly rewarding, just seeing light bulbs go off over people’s head to say, hey, I get this.  I understand it.  Thanks for explaining that.  That’s one of the better feelings you can get in a work environment, at least in my opinion.  So I started doing that on the side.  And most recently I’ve made it a full-time position.

Bad Meeting Victims

BILL YATES:  Rich, you and I have known each other for a while.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  And that has been my impression from day one is you’re passionate about teaching, mentoring, coaching, leading people.  And so we appreciate this time with you.  And I’m going to go ahead and tell you, I really enjoyed this book, the book that we’re talking about.  We’re going to hit on some of the notes from it.  But I’ve got to tell you, you got me right from the start when you and Jim talked about the problem.  And I, when I was reading about kind of what led you to want to write this book, you guys talked about the problems.  The problem is we have all been victims to awful meetings.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  And I was cracking up at some of the stats that you were throwing out about bad meetings.  Personally, you say you’ve been in quite a few bad meetings yourself?  How many do you think you’ve been in?

RICH MALTZMAN:  I’ve counted.  It’s 623.  Counting this one, 624.  No, no.

BILL YATES:  Oh, no.  Oh, that hurt.

NICK WALKER:  Nice one.

RICH MALTZMAN:  It’s a lot.  I don’t know the number.  And of course what’s the definition of “bad”?  I mean, I’d say the better word is “disappointing” – two words, “disappointing” and “unrewarding.”  So you walk out of a meeting with that feeling like, let’s say you’re just an attendee.  You walk out of that meeting with the feeling, why did I just spend an hour in that room?  Or it’s even worse if you’re leading the meeting; you wonder did people get it.  Are people walking away tasked?  Do they know, okay, I’m excited about what I have to do, and I know                           what I have to do?

And I would say let’s put it in percentage terms.  I’m going to say about 30 percent of the time, at least, I remember walking away from meetings going, you know, was that a really good use of my time and everyone else’s time?  And think about the number of people in the room, 15-20 people in the room, each getting a reasonable salary, at least they’re certainly getting paid.  And all that time, is it really being best used?  You wonder.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s so true.  And just stepping back and looking at some of the statistics that you guys share in the book, in the U.S., 25 million meetings per day in the United States, in corporate America.  And of those, like 15 percent of the collective time of the organization is being spent in those meetings.  Yet when you ask managers how effective are the meetings, they come back and say, I think about two thirds are failures.  We failed to walk out with a clear action plan.  People weren’t clear.  We didn’t have the right people in the room.  So many of these things that you guys talk about.  So, yeah, I appreciate a book that takes a common problem and looks for solutions.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Right, right.  So I’m glad, I mean, as project managers we know you want to start with a clear problem statement, a rationale for doing the project.  In that case, the book is the project, and the rationale for writing the book is, hey, there’s room for improvement here.  And it’s kind of ironic because we’re at the eye of the storm.  As project managers, we live and die by meetings.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

RICH MALTZMAN:  And yet we don’t apply our own project management principles to the planning of meetings.  So we kind of said, let’s refocus ourselves as PMs and put our own intelligence on a meeting plan.

BILL YATES:  Right.

Research

NICK WALKER:  And Rich, you wrote this book, not just from your own perspective, but you did a little bit of research with others who have been through some tales of woe.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes, both Jim Stewart, my coauthor and myself have fairly large networks of people.  We’ve both intentionally been very active on LinkedIn to build networks.  And by the way, I coach project managers to do that.  It’s just a very, very good practice.  So we leaned on those networks and talked to people who we know, folks who have also been in industry for a long time, in a variety of industries, and asked them.

But we also leaned on; I guess you could say, “Standard bearers” in this field of meetings.  We talked to facilitators.  We talked to people who have written books as facilitators, just in general, not project management, because we realize we don’t want to make this so niche-focused that it’s only for PMs.  So we talked to psychologists.  We talked to people who’ve written guidebooks on how to facilitate, and we got their opinions, too.  And as you mentioned, we grabbed a lot of war stories from these folks, you know, awful, absolutely awful meetings that they’ve been to.  And we have a small chapter dedicated to that piece, as well.

BILL YATES:  Oh, that’s fun, too.  It’s such a fun read, the Appendix, where some of these stories are shared.  It’s like you save some of the best, some of the funniest stuff till the end.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

Large and in Charge

BILL YATES:  I mean, there’s humor throughout the book, but those stories were great.  One thing I appreciate about the book is it’s not just, okay, here’s how to have an effective meeting.  I mean, that’s, yeah, that’s kind of a – you could say that at a high level.  But you guys get very specific and tactical.  You talk about the importance of a kickoff meeting and a planning session, specifically a two-day.  You know, you prescribe a two-day planning session, a planning meeting.

And it’s, again, I’m going to use the word “tactical.”  You have very specific items to carry out and to do.  And I like, I can’t remember if it’s your emphasis or Jim’s on the notion of this is where the project manager really needs to step in and be large and in charge.  So she or he needs to kind of show authority from the beginning, so large and in charge.  We use that here at Velociteach.  What do you guys mean by that?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Well, what we mean is that attitude is contagious.  And just even last evening, when I talked about this at Boston University, I actually have been in a meeting where an individual would get up in front of the group and, in a very monotone voice will say, “Okay, we’re here to do this meeting that’s about this project.”  And, you know, it comes across very clearly that they don’t seem to care.

You need to be almost a caricature of yourself, exaggerate your vision and the purpose of the project, the importance of how it connects to the mission and vision of the company.  And you have to be optimistic and upbeat.  It has to seem possible.  And I lean on Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind.  You have to have a vision.  Even a conceptual drawing, of course, depends on the kind of project on which you’re working.  You know have an image of what it is that you expect.

And let me go back to my academic background, my current academic background.  Some of the best presentations in my courses, which are all project-based, are the ones where the students start off; let’s say they’re developing an app.  They start off with screenshots from what look like a real app on a smartphone.  That’s the first thing you’re presented with as the sponsor or the audience.  And I have the students make the classroom magically into an audience, into the sponsor as an audience.  They will show them, here’s what this looks like.  And that’s beginning with the end in mind. So large and in charge means, not necessarily that you’re physically large, but that you take on a presence, a large presence as a, for lack of a better word, a cheerleader for the meeting.

Sponsor Involvement

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And Rich, one of the things that, as I thought about that and saw and was reading what you guys had to say about that, I see that consistent in the steps that you guys put forward as leading to successful kickoff planning session meetings, having that sponsor there at the beginning and throughout, and then wrapping up at the end.  And I really like that.  That resonates with me.  Again, we’ve talked about that before.  We even teach to that in some of the project management fundamentals-type courses that we have.

One of the sources that I like to cite to that end is a book by Hiatt and Creasey.  It’s “Change Management:  The People Side of Change.”  And there they talk about the importance of executive sponsorship.  And there’s no time more important than the beginning of the project, the kickoff.  And they researched 300 companies.  In their book they talked about the number one success factor cited for implementing change through projects is visible and active executive sponsorship.

RICH MALTZMAN:  That’s right.

BILL YATES:  So I agree with you guys wholeheartedly on that point is you’ve thought back with your career.  Have you ever had to kind of sell the sponsor on being in the room, convince them of that importance for this meeting?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Absolutely.  In fact, the basis for these two-day planning meetings comes from a strange – probably not that strange, actually – coincidence in that both Jim and I in different industries have been involved in these customer project kickoff meetings that have this very similar format.  And both Jim and I found that they were successful.  And yes, in this case the sponsor was kind of a cosponsor of the senior leadership of our company, in this case a telecom equipment manufacturer and the customer of that network system.

So, for example, at the time, this goes back to the old days, companies like Pacific Bell would be the customers of what was at the time AT&T Network Systems.  And I’m going back to brontosaurus and tyrannosaurus times.  But when we would have these kickoff meetings, we would invite Pacific Bill to be present at the beginning, explaining why this network was so important for them.  We’re going to be putting in the equivalent of a cable network system.  We’re going to start to compete with cable companies, which was shocking at the time, you know, telephone companies competing with cable companies.  Now they are cable companies.

BILL YATES:  Right.

RICH MALTZMAN:  But in those days, to energize testers, installers, designers, all the contributors to a telecom network, there was nothing better than to have a person from Pacific Bell standing in front of them saying I am your customer.  This is critical for us.  You guys need to have this turned up on time, and here’s why.  And to me that’s even better than an executive sponsor because now it’s coming from outside.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  You know, Rich, the large and in charge – it’s funny, Nick, when I think of that, I mean, that just resonates with me.  I think of wrestling or, you know, some massive figure.

NICK WALKER:  It can be like that, I’m sure.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  But there are times when project managers are very comfortable in the technical space, and they’re fine talking with the team once things get rolling.  But getting that momentum going with this first meeting is not always a natural thing.  So to your point, Rich, it’s almost a caricature of who I am or who a project manager normally is.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  And it’s so helpful when I’ve got that, the person, you know, if I have a sponsor standing next to me, and she’s well respected in the organization; or, heck, she signs the checks; you know?  People look at that and go, okay, all right.  Well, if Tina is giving – if she’s kind of anointing Bill as the leader of this initiative, it must be important.  I guess I’ll listen to Bill after all.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Exactly.  It goes to that whole idea of influence without authority.

BILL YATES:  Absolutely.

RICH MALTZMAN:  As a project manager, you’re often not the largest and in chargest in the room.

BILL YATES:  Right.

RICH MALTZMAN:  From a hierarchical standpoint.  So you need something, some source of authority.  And having the person who signs the checks saying “Bill is running this project,” well, that’s one source of authority, and of course having a customer reiterate that doesn’t hurt.  So, yeah, those two-day meeting tactical outlines are a part of the book.  It’s not the only part of the book.  But we do get down to brass tacks in a couple of these chapters.

Pre-Meeting Steps

NICK WALKER:  So Rich let me ask you this.  What do you actually need to put in place, what do you need to do, what steps do you need to take before this meeting?

RICH MALTZMAN:  I think you need to just step back and say, “I’m a project manager.  I’m going to project manage this meeting.”  Seriously, a lot of the same skills that you are applying to your project, you just need to step back and realize that this is a project itself.  The meeting itself is a time-limited endeavor that’s unique, and you need to put the same principles you’re applying to the project into the planning of the meeting, including logistics like what building is this in?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

RICH MALTZMAN:  And have I clearly communicated what the location and the logistics for the meeting, and even the purpose.  In one of our war stories, someone indicated that they forgot to clearly state that this was a project planning meeting.  So they invited everyone to this – they just called it a “kickoff.”  And people didn’t know what they’d be doing at the meeting.  You should have at least an outline or a preliminary agenda and, in maybe size 14 at least font, you know, “This is a project planning meeting with the following expected outcomes.”

BILL YATES:  Rich, I think you shared, I don’t remember if it was a personal story or a colleague you reached out to, where it’s important to emphasize, not just the right location and conference room, but the right city.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

NICK WALKER:  Oh, my.

BILL YATES:  Is there a story there?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Oh, yes.  I had an engineer go to Minneapolis instead of Indianapolis.

NICK WALKER:  Oh.

BILL YATES:  Oh, no.

RICH MALTZMAN:  He just went to an “apolis” city.  I guess he could have gone to Annapolis.  This actually happened and if you know the geography of the United States, there’s Bloomington, Minnesota and Bloomington, Indiana.  And the meeting was in Bloomington, and he associated it with Bloomington, Indiana.  The meeting was supposed to be in Bloomington, Minnesota.  And we got a call – I still remember it.  “I’m at a rental car agency in Bloomington, and they’re telling me there’s no hotel like the one you’re talking about here.  Am I in the wrong place?”  And we’re like, yes.

NICK WALKER:  Oh, no.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, you are.

NICK WALKER:  Oh, my goodness.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Now, that was mostly a mistake on his part.  But that’s a real example.  I think it’s pretty clear in this case that you just needed to be very obvious about the state and location and so forth.  But that’s, although it really happened, it’s kind of an outlier.

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah, that’s a great story.  There are so many useful takeaways from the book.  And one of them is – I’m holding the sheet now.  It’s page 54.  There’s a Planning Meeting Readiness Checklist.  And Rich, this is really helpful.  There’s 15 or so bullet items here, kind of a checklist.  Project managers love checklists.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Oh, yes.

BILL YATES:  So in that there’s – it’s a great checklist.  To your point, it hits on logistics.  It hits on some of the, you know, have I sent out the proper agenda?  Have I let people know this is a kickoff meeting, and we’re going to do some serious planning?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

Kickoff Meeting Timeline

BILL YATES:  There’s a lot in there.  Here’s one of the pieces that, when I looked at it, I was thinking, okay, this actually has a lot of prework involved because, as you walk into this meeting, the assumption is the project charter is signed.  Okay, yeah, that makes sense.  It’s an official project.  But there’s also a scope statement in place.  So that implies a pretty deep understanding of scope.  So there’s been some form of meeting with the customer, with the sponsor, ahead of time to understand that.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  So help me understand, if we’re talking about a project that’s going to go for a year, how deep into the project will we have this kickoff planning meeting?

RICH MALTZMAN:  It would still be fairly early in the project.  And of course I have to give you the answer that it depends.

BILL YATES:  Sure, absolutely.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Is this a two-month development of an app, or is this a $1 billion network deployment for a telecom or IT company, or a medical device or a pharmaceutical introduction?  All of these things would be different.  But we’re talking about the first 10 percent of the timeline of the project.  The kickoff needs to be, as you correctly identified, there has to be enough solid information about the project so that it makes sense for people to perhaps fly in from different parts of the world to be together, or to be in a large virtual meeting.  But the project should be chartered.  The project manager should be identified.  And that means you are somewhat into the timeline. And I’m just guessing that it’s generally about 10 percent into the overall timeline.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, okay, that makes sense.

Risk Register

NICK WALKER:  I’ve got a question for you, Rich.  There’s probably some listeners here who might be pushing back a little bit, saying, now, wait a minute, I don’t want to overplan here, you know, because this is going to – we’re going to lose our creativity.  We’re going to lose our spontaneity, our out-of-the-box thinking.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Right.

NICK WALKER:  What would you say to people who maybe are a little worried about that in terms of planning for this meeting?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Well, I’ll give you an example.  One of the things we recommend is that you have a pre-filled out or started WBS, just started.  And you have a risk register with a couple of items filled in.  And maybe – this is from my teaching background and dealing with students.  But we really all are students.  Yes, there’s a risk that, if you have such a constrained format, you might block some input.  I think you just need to buy into that fact and say, look, I started this, but I want any idea, even if it doesn’t fit into the format of this WBS.  You’ve got some risks identified here.  It’s just to show you the format of what we mean by a risk.  That’s the only purpose of this, and what the characteristics we want to record are about the risks we’ll identify.

But the fact that I’ve identified a labor strike doesn’t mean you should only think about labor issues.  We want you to think broadly and deeply.  And so your concern is valid.  Your fear or the listener’s fear of overplanning should be taken into account.  I know that Agile thinking is very popular right now, and we even dedicate some space in the book to Agile planning meetings.  But I would push back on the pushback and say that you should be able to manage and draw out, elicit creativity as a good large-and-in-charge project manager, even if you do have some structure, for example a risk register with the first couple of risks filled in. So I think you still can and should be able to draw out all kinds of wild ideas in this meeting.  And that’s really what you’re after here.

Think about this for a moment, a pet peeve of mine:  stakeholder and risk identification.  If you fail to do those two things at the beginning of a project, guess what?  You have risks that you never even thought of show up.  You have stakeholders who you didn’t even consider were stakeholders suddenly showing up halfway through and blocking.  Or you’ve missed out on an opportunity of a stakeholder who now you suddenly discover could have saved you very early.

BILL YATES:  Rich, you just triggered a thought in my mind, which is, I mean, it’s so important to invite the right people to this meeting, even if they only come for a portion of it.  If it’s a two-day meeting, I may have somebody from customer service that I want to come in for an hour and explain to our team that’s developing an app, let’s say this is the impact that the app may have on us.  Let me share my perspective from customer service, and the kind of calls and chats and whatever that we receive.  How are we going to handle that with the app?  Here’s our perspective.  So I don’t need them there the whole time, but I need them for part.

You’ve got, you know, I know it’s natural to be running a meeting like this, and then suddenly somebody brings something up.  And I’m like, oh, wow, we need to have somebody from that department in the room, or somebody from that customer area in the room.  What do you do?  Do you hit the pause button? Do you just plan another meeting?  What advice do you have for that?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Well, it’s going to depend on the specific situation.  But I would say I tend to be pretty liberal in that area.  In other words, if it’s apparent that hearing the voice of a customer service person right now is important, I would like to get that person on the video or on the phone as soon as possible.  I also think it’s – we now have the advantage, and we’re seeing it together right now, of video conferencing and recording.  So if you were to bring that person in for that one hour to talk about this, even if you – and of course with their permission – you record that one hour and then play that back when they’re not available, but the other people who need to hear that can be in the room.  Nothing wrong with piecing together the meeting and responding to it in that way.

But that’s a very good point.  And in the real world you can read all the books you want.  I think our book is fairly good, but you can read any best practice book, and still some unexpected thing’s going to happen.  And one of the key habits of a project manager is being able to bob and weave and react in real time to both threats and opportunities.  You gave a great example of a positive risk.  Someone happens to be walking by the meeting room who’s a customer service person who really could contribute.  You hadn’t thought of that until now.  Wow, they could contribute?  Invite them in.  Record that.  Make it available as an artifact for later in the meeting or as a follow-up.

Meeting Goblins

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  Rich, one of the things that Nick and I were laughing about as we were preparing for our conversation with you is for some of the people that have been invited into the meeting, which may be a little difficult to manage.  So Nick, what are we talking about there?

NICK WALKER:  You refer to them as “meeting goblins.”  What do you mean by that?

RICH MALTZMAN:  So everyone has a reptilian brain.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Especially reptiles.  And including reptiles.  So we all have some of this in us.  But there are some people who seem to have this more prevalent in their meeting behavior.  So we do have a section near the beginning of the book where we talk about meeting goblins.  And this comes from our joint consciousness, myself and Jim’s.  So we decided to give them names.  And later on, after the book, we actually gave them little figurine images.

BILL YATES:  Oh, nice.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yeah, I can provide that as a follow-up if you really want to get scared.

NICK WALKER:  You can have a whole line of action figures.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes, yes.

BILL YATES:  I’m afraid one of them’s going to look like me.

RICH MALTZMAN:  That’s right hence ‘Merchandising’, as Mel Brooks said in “Spaceballs.”  So, for example, we have Flo, the Flo goblin.  So Flo is the person who arrives late or is constantly getting up to do something outside the meeting, and it’s disruptive in terms of the overall flow of the meetings.  Meetings almost have personalities, just like these goblins.  And if you have someone who’s constantly disrupting, leaving early, coming late, changing topic, although that’s actually a different goblin, you need to make sure that’s corrected.

And we have some specific tips in the book.  For example, if someone is habitually late, then maybe start the meeting at an odd time, 3:17.  Make your meeting start time a little bit odd.  It’s interesting how that can actually affect it.  I’ve done that.  People will say, “What the heck?  Why does your meeting start at 3:17?”  Because you remembered it.

BILL YATES:  Right.

NICK WALKER:  Uh-huh.

RICH MALTZMAN:  And pull Flo aside and say, you know, I appreciate you.  You’re a great contributor to the meeting.  But meetings have to have, you know, you wouldn’t call her out as Flo.  But you’d say, “Meetings do have a kind of a flow that we need to keep.  And we would really appreciate it if you show up on time.  In fact, we’d ask that you come a little bit early.”  So each of these goblins have their own personality and their own traits.  And we’ve seen all of these:  people who take you off on tangents; people who tend to act almost as a bully.

So one of the goblins that’s one of my favorites is Charlie the Chatty Goblin.  Charlie’s the person who is having side conversations, many side conversations with anyone around him who’ll listen.  And for this I actually took a tip from my daughter, who is an English teacher in middle school in the Washington, D.C. area.  One of the things that she’s told me is just walk over to the person.  And do it slowly and subtly, and stand near them.  They’ll stop.

And it’s a little less disruptive and, in one way, a little less rude; in one way, a little more aggressive and assertive.  And it gets them to stop.  And they’ll learn that, if they continue to talk, that you’ll just be located near them frequently.  She’s used this in her classroom.  I’ve used this in my graduate school classroom.  And these are more of the age of the people we’ll deal with, people who are 25 or so.  But it works kind of across the board.  And that’s an example of what we have in our goblin section.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I found this to be very practical and very helpful.  One that resonated with me was the naysayer, that’s always negative.  And you guys…

RICH MALTZMAN:  Mm-hmm, Nancy.  Nancy the Naysayer.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, Nancy the Naysayer.  And it could be Ned, you know, it could be male or female.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Oh, all of them could be…

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.

RICH MALTZMAN:  All of them could have any characteristic that you could name.

BILL YATES:  But I recall we had a client, back when I was working in software for utilities, we had a client who would call.  And we’re providing, you know, we’re doing hundreds and hundreds of calculations, dozens of reports.  And if there was one number that was wrong, this guy would call.  His first words would be “Everything is broken.”  And, you know, it was like, oh, my, you know, the first time we heard that, we’re panicking.  We’re like, you know, sound the alarms.  Everything’s broken.  And it’s just one number’s off; you know.  Okay, this is not the end of the world.  You see the impact that a naysayer can have in the room.

There was one other one that I thought of, Rich, for your Volume II on this, or your next printing.  You can add the multitasker.  So, you know, sometimes my meetings get – I feel like there’s one person that I have to repeat for because they’re over there multitasking.

NICK WALKER:  Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes, yes.

BILL YATES:  I’ve been doing a training session before, on the software that I mentioned before.  And my colleague was leading from the front of the room, and I was kind of walking around, making sure everybody was keeping up.  One guy’s pulling his wallet out and reaching for a credit card.  I’m thinking, what do we have in our system that would require that?  Well, he’s shopping online.  He’s buying tickets to a concert.

NICK WALKER:  Oh, no, no.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Oh, absolutely.

BILL YATES:  He was multitasking.

RICH MALTZMAN:  So this is one of those things that I have seen as I’ve seen it in meetings and I’ve seen it in classrooms.  The real solution to this – and this is actually kind of interesting, and it’s certainly not on any script that we’ve written, but I think it’s worthwhile mentioning.  Ground rules; right?  Establishing ground rules.  And what I found really psychologically interesting here is that people, and I’ll give students as an example, when you ask them, would you like to have a rule that says you should not have a tablet, smartphone, or laptop active during class, now, this is the person who’s using it.  They’ll say, “Yes, please take it away from me.”

We surveyed hundreds of students at Boston University in our project management classes because we were seeing this.  I’d walk through the room, and I would see that their screens are not in fact on PMI’s website.  They’re selecting down jackets or shoes on Amazon.com.  Unabashedly.

And so when we asked the students, would you be in favor of a ground rule that says if you need to use a laptop for translation – because we have a lot of international students – or for note-taking, that’s fine.  We’re going to seat you toward the front of the room.  If not, we want the laptop closed and your smartphones off.  We’ll give you plenty of breaks, right?  You set the ground rules and the expectations so they’re not saying, oh, I can’t wait to order this jacket or dress or shoe and so you tell them, look, we’ll only be having periods of an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, and then we’ll be having breaks.  And then you can run out and order your product.

But the interesting thing was 90 percent plus of the students, and these include the ones who are using the laptops, and I know them by name, they would say, yes, I agree with this.  Please.  My own laptop was distracting me.  My neighbor’s laptop was distracting me.  In fact, my neighbor would be online, and that would remind me, yeah, I need a new jacket.  And seriously, they were actually almost begging us to take these away, just almost like an addict would say, yeah, get this out.  Get this fattening food away from me.

Virtual Meetings

BILL YATES:  Rich, one of the things that I’ve got to mention while we’re having this conversation, one of the things I really appreciated in the book, and honestly I kind of laughed at it when I realized the connection, you’ve got a section in the book focused on facilitating a virtual meeting.  And the part that was humorous to me was, hey, small world.  You’ve got Wayne.  You’re getting some advice from Wayne and sharing that in that chapter.  Wayne was our guest on Episode 64 as he talked about virtual meetings.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  Talk a little bit about your relationship with Wayne and how you twisted his arm to get him to collaborate with you.

RICH MALTZMAN:  It didn’t take much of a twist.  So I’ve known Wayne Turmel for a long time.  I’ve been a fan, it started when I was a fan of his show, I don’t know if you recall this, called “The Cranky Middle Manager.”  Did you know he had a show?

BILL YATES:  No, I didn’t realize that.  That’s great.

RICH MALTZMAN:  It was awesome.  It was one of the first times I got into podcasting.  Terrific show, great sense of humor, a lot of history, you know, interesting trivia and history, if you’re into that stuff.  He would talk about Attila the Hun and Charlemagne and all this stuff.  And he was great at that.  He’s moved into the world of coaching with his colleague Kevin Eikenberry, coaching people as to how to run meetings.  And they’ve become expert at planning and running any kind of virtual meeting or training.  They have a brand new book out, too.  His chapter in our book on virtual meetings is drawn from the book called “The Long-Distance Manager.”  It’s a great book.  I don’t know if that’s – I assume that might be what you talked about.

BILL YATES:  Right, yeah, that was our conversation.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  One of his quotes, Rich, was – and I’m quoting Wayne here.  “Meetings pretty much suck.  Making them virtual just adds a bit to the general suckiness.”

RICH MALTZMAN:  This is Wayne.  That’s Wayne.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, this is Wayne.  And I appreciate the way that you guys take that because you know, to your point, we’re having this meeting.  We want to have the right people in the room.  Some of them may be joining us virtually.  It could be a partner.  It could be someone that’s located outside of the city that we’re in, whatever.  So it’s something to consider; and it’s something that, again, that project manager needs to project manage.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  They need to really think that through.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Exactly.  Think about the time zones.  Think about the Internet connectivity.  It’s not so easy, for example, in China to arrange a virtual meeting because certain sites are blocked, and you have to consider that.  You can’t tell someone in China, for example, to go Google something because Google’s not acceptable.

Naysayers

I want to go back to the goblins for a second because there is one piece in here that I can’t help sharing.  When you talked about the naysayer, you reminded me.  So the negative person, the person who’s saying, oh, we’ll never get this done.  Oh, this project’s going to fail.  I mean, that’s a real poison in your meeting.  That gets into everyone’s bloodstream, and you really need to avoid that.  And Wayne, bringing up Wayne brings up comedy and humor, and that reminds me of this piece of humor.  One of the things you can say publicly in a meeting like that is, “You know, Nancy, pessimists are always eventually right.  Rome eventually fell.  The dinosaurs went extinct.  But you know both of them had a pretty good run.”

And, you know, that kind of shuts up Nancy because we’re not talking about the end of time, we’re talking about having a successful project, making our customers successful, being able to walk away from this and work on another project.  We’re not talking about hate and war and death all the time.  And in this case you’re really trying to focus them on the fact that, you know, we can have a pretty good run.

NICK WALKER:  What happens when you have Nancy the Naysayer or Murray the Multitasker, you know, take over?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Yes.

NICK WALKER:  What’s the result of that?

RICH MALTZMAN:  I’d say that the result of that is a derailed meeting.  It’s different between Murray and Nancy because  Nancy’s issue will be that people are just going to walk away saying we’ll never get this done. So their motivation will be low, Murray the Multitasker is just a little bit less insidious because all he’s doing is interrupting the meeting and maybe showing that it’s okay to not pay attention.  So by all means not good.  But I think Nancy’s a little more dangerous of those two.  In all of the cases, though, you need to take a direct approach.  This goes back to Bill, large and in charge.

BILL YATES:  Right.

RICH MALTZMAN:   You need to be a caricature of yourself.  And if you tend to be a little bit introverted, this is not the time for Introverted Ike, to name another goblin.  As a project manager, you need to step outside your normal bounds and talk to these goblins. Whether it’s one on one afterwards, you know, you need to use your judgment, whether it’s right there in front of everyone.  Sometimes that’s necessary.

Final Remarks

NICK WALKER:  Finally Rich, before we let you go, we want to know how, first of all, we can get the book.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Well, there’s an agent named Nancy – no.

BILL YATES:  Standing by, taking orders.

RICH MALTZMAN:  The book is available in several forms, formats, on Amazon.  We really liked our publisher here and I’ve got to put in a pitch for Maven House.  Maven House Press was the publisher. Jim Pennypacker, who was a big contributor to PMI, helped us with this.  I’d like to also thank Dr. Harold Kerzner for writing the forward for us, and of course Wayne and other contributors that we thank in the book.  So it’s available on Amazon and it’s available on Kindle and Barnes & Noble and so forth.  It’s paperback, it’s affordable because it’s a paperback, which is good.  Other books that I’ve coauthored have been hardcover, and a little bit less accessible, and I’d say considered academic because they’re hardcover.  This is a little more of a guide, and I think it should be something that you’d be happy to have on your desk.

NICK WALKER:  And obviously you offer a lot of expertise so how can people get in touch with you to get more information from you?

RICH MALTZMAN:  Sure.  We are establishing a website, Jim and I, but for now I’d just give you my email address, that’s just exclaim, E-X-C-L-A-I-M, exclaim, like “I exclaim, ‘What a great meeting.’”  exclaim@verizon.net is probably the best way to get to me.

NICK WALKER:  Well, Rich thanks so much again for taking the time to be with us today.  Great discussion.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Thank you.  It’s a privilege and an honor to be here.  I’ve known you guys for a while, and it’s great to be in a virtual room with you.

NICK WALKER:  One more thing, Rich.  We’ve got a present for you.

RICH MALTZMAN:  A present.

NICK WALKER:  This is the Manage This coffee mug.  And we’re going to send this to you.  And I understand that you love that Kona blend.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Full?  It’ll be full like that?

NICK WALKER:  Yeah.  I spilled my water, for the listeners there.  Now there’s water all over the table.  You can fill it with something much more potent, probably.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Kona coffee.

BILL YATES:  There you go.

NICK WALKER:  All right.

RICH MALTZMAN:  Thank you very much.  I appreciate that.  I’ll treasure it.

NICK WALKER:  A reminder to our listeners. We know you’re always looking for those credits to renew your project management certifications, and if you need some Professional Development Units, we can supply them.  In fact, you’ve already earned some PDUs just for listening to this podcast and to claim them, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on April 2nd for our next podcast.  In the meantime, we’d love to have you visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.

Well, that’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

6 responses to “Episode 77 – Project Kickoff – Heading in the Right Direction”

  1. Avatar Megan says:

    I love the response to Nancy the Naysayer. I can’t wait to read the book for guidance.

  2. Avatar Darin DeMasters says:

    Excellent and very helpful thank you very much

  3. Avatar Barry Scott says:

    Practical tips, would have liked more insight into the structure/outline of two day planning meetings. Guess I have to buy Rich’s book!

  4. Avatar Cheryl Anderson says:

    Great to hear some of the whats and hows for planning meetings. Excellent suggestion to include upper management and customers to reinforce the project’s benefit. Loved the comments about the “Goblins.”

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