Are you fed up with boring Project Management meetings? Are you in an interminable cycle of weekly meetings? Are you overdosed by tedious Powerpoints?

It could be that you are suffering from “management by meeting”. If the only way that your company can manage a project is to hold weekly meetings with everyone round the table, then they are doing management by meeting.  Another day, another meeting.

There is an alternative. There is a way to reduce the number of boring meetings. It’s called Management by Exception.

Management by Exception is based on constrained delegation. Delegation with limits. When the delegation is in place, then you apply the old saying “no news is good news”. If there’s nothing exceptional going on, then you probably won’t have a meeting.

Here’s how it works:
    •    you propose a plan with some defined constraints
    •    when the plan is agreed, your manager delegates
    •    during the period of the plan, the delegation is in place…
    •    … unless something “exceptional” happens, notably if you exceed any defined constraint

So you only need a meeting if something exceptional happens. You don’t need management by meeting!

Let’s look at an example. Let’s imagine a project to install some packaged software.
    1.    You divide the project into stages. Let’s say that one of them is the software selection stage
    2.    You write a short document with your criteria for software selection; you create a work-plan for the software selection stage, with two constraints
    ⁃    The software is supposed to cost 30k€, plus or minus a tolerance of 10k€
    ⁃    The stage is supposed to take 2 months, plus or minus 2 weeks tolerance
    3.    This plan, including the constraints, is approved by your project board, so you start work. They know what you are doing, and when you plan to do it, so delegation is in place. Limited delegation – you can’t exceed your tolerances!
    4.    You send a regular weekly report to the board, showing your progress.

Let’s now see why it’s called Management by Exception, by looking at two scenarios, the best case scenarios and the worst case scenario.

Best case: For this stage of the project, you are broadly on time and on budget. Nothing exceptional takes place. You find the software and finish this stage of the project. No weekly meetings are required during the stage.

Worst case:  For this stage of the project, things are difficult. Let’s imagine some possible exceptional events
    1.    You can’t find suitable software
    2.    You can’t find anything under 50k€
    3.    You will need 3 months to evaluate and select the software
If any one of these exceptions occurs, then you need to get back ASAP to your board. You are outside of the delegation limits, so you do need a meeting.

So we only have meetings when they are useful. That’s why Management by Exception has big benefits
    •    It saves management time – it limits the time wasted in meetings
    •    It lets the PM manage, and helps avoids micro-management by top managers

Let’s be clear, Management by Exception doesn’t means laxity and absence of control. It is a practical approach, it is is not an idealistic “zero meetings” dream.

Some meetings are needed – for example:  
    •    at the start of the stage to agree the plan
    •    at the end of the stage to review the stage, and to plan the next stage
    •    if anything exceptional happens

It’s a best practice approach. It’s a cornerstone of the Prince2 family of methods. Prince2, the Project Management method uses management by exception. It is also used in MSP (Programme Management), MoP (Management of Portfolios) and P3O (Project, Programme and Portfolio Offices).

So if you are fed up with boring Project Management meetings, then bring in a best practice alternative. Stop wasting time, week after week after week. Move to Management by Exception.

Written by Jeff on November 30, 2014 in blog
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