Milestone meetings are important. These meetings are discussion meetings about what is happening and what is projected, and they follow an agenda that is prepared and distributed by the project manager. The minutes of the meeting are kept by a designee of the project manager and are distributed to all of the team members and the project stakeholders. The milestone meeting is one tool for keeping the project's team members connected to the project. As previously noted, the team members, whose tasks do not begin for months into the future, can easily lose track of where they fit in the project. Milestone meetings and the minutes of these meetings are distributed to help keep them connected. (You should distribute the minutes by e-mail along with a personal e-mail note to each team leader.)
Persons whose tasks are far in the future may not attend the current milestone meetings, but everyone whose task is recently completed, whose task is currently ongoing, or whose task will start within the next two months, should get a personal invitation from the project manager to attend. Task leaders will be scheduled to report the following:
What we have done and how that may affect "you" downstream
What we are doing, how it may affect parallel tasks, and how this may affect task teams downstream
What the team members downstream need from the team members who are currently working on tasks
Some task leaders have special needs that are met at milestone meetings. The people who have responsibilities for writing user's guides, installation manuals, service manuals, hot line resource dictionaries, quality assurance, testing, and other product or service support documents find it much easier to do their jobs if they can regularly attain information as it develops.
The completion of every project should include the compilation of a project report that the project manager excerpts from his or her project diary. The milestone meetings and the minutes of these meetings provide an excellent supplementary source for this report.
The sponsor, resource managers, financial managers, suppliers, and the product or service line managers need to be kept abreast of a project's progress. All of them should be invited to the milestone meetings and receive the milestone minutes. The project manager should have a tight agenda, limit the discussions to project team participation, and take care of the concerns of non-project team attendees "off line." The meeting should be as short as is functionally satisfactory and should never be more than two hours.
It can be difficult to get all of the project team members and stakeholders together for a review of the project's progress. If this happens, the project manager may have to substitute an effective status report at the time of a scheduled milestone meeting. The project status report should cover three primary areas of the project: Time, cost, and scope.
The time report covers the tasks completed during the past period, tasks that are underway, tasks to be started during the next work period, and tasks that were expected to be completed but have not been completed. For tasks expected to be completed but not yet completed, the report should cover how the team will be resolving the issues and when completion is projected. Note that these currently incomplete tasks are using up an identifiable portion of the risk factor.
When reporting on cost, the report should review current expenditures to date, over budget and under budget areas, and how these facts relate to the budgeted reserve associated with the risk factor. The cost operating Gantt chart is the source of this information.
When reporting on project scope, the report should cover any changes that have been proposed for the specification and their disposition. If the changes have been accepted and replanning has been done, you should include the revised Gantt chart in the report and explain the rationale behind accepting these changes.
Conversely, there are important things that the milestone meeting and status reports do not do. They do not manage the project. The project manager manages the project with walk-about management and individual consultations with task leaders or small groups of task leaders, which occur as the circumstances require. Any problems, including discipline problems, are handled by the project manager during the project manager's walk-about managerial efforts.
The project manager keeps tight control over the milestone meeting and squelches anyone's attempt to change or micromanage the project. A special warning is in order here. Too often, project meetings are wide open, where many people try to tell others what to do and how to do it. Individuals can come to a meeting with a chip on their shoulder and want to criticize others. Individuals also may bring suggestions for project changes. None of this can be allowed! Although well-organized IPM projects do not have much trouble with this, the project manager always must be alert.
The project manager often can manage meetings and guide team and sponsor expectations through the use of up-to-date project documentation as disclosed on the operations Gantt chart. This project documentation is made up of the statement of work, which includes the project scope discussion and the specification, the updated working Gantt chart and related charts and tables, all change request and reports of their resolution, risk documentation, and budget/cost information. The project manager must always keep in mind that this documentation is only as good as the updates. If the operations Gantt chart is not kept up to date and is not fully representative of all of the approved changes, it is of little value to the project team.
For projects that are not set up with IPM plans and IPM discipline, milestone meetings often turn into angry discussions. Thus, the project falls apart.
The action item that result from a good milestone meeting is that the project will proceed as planned, with some intensified communication between some team members who particularly need to talk to each other.