Virgin_Voyage_-_Land_Rover_Celebrates_Production_of_First_New_Discovery_Sport_(15572646535)Suman, who oversees a PMO in the development center for a global service provider, has one technique that he says keeps him more productive every single day: He turns Microsoft Outlook off “for at least a couple of hours a day, so it doesn’t distract me.” Typically, he chooses not to check email between 11 and 12 in the morning and between 3 and 4 in the afternoon.

Suman shared his advice with MPUG during the recent PMI Symposium in Phoenix, AZ. “It’s not hard once you’re used to it,” he notes. “At first you think the world is going to come to an end, but it doesn’t.”

Here are four more tips from project management experts that will help you stay productive, produce better reports and run more effective meetings in 2016.

Turn to Project Add-ons for Dramatic Results

Mike, who works for a U.S.-based pharmaceutical company, relies on a Microsoft Project add-on from Chronicle Graphics. OnePager Pro is a reporting application that creates timeline charts for presentation. Reports Mike, “It’s a phenomenal tool that will allow you to make really nice Gantt charts that are more human readable.”

As he explains, “You don’t need to understand [or] have in-depth knowledge of the language of Gantts. It really breaks down projects so they’re more readable for the non-project manager.” Overnight, he insists, “Teams were able to understand their projects and look at it and see where there were some potential issues in the project plan itself.”

Get Exclusive with Meeting Invitations

Solomon, a project manager in biotech, cuts his meeting time down in two ways. First, he makes sure he has prepared ahead with a pertinent agenda so that “everybody knows what’s being discussed and what the final outcome is that you want to decide on.” The meeting doesn’t end until that outcome is figured out.

Second, Solomon makes sure to have “only pertinent people there and not extra fluff.” By “extra fluff,” he means people who are coming up to speed on a project who may wish to make comments. He acknowledges that the second item is tougher than the first. “They may be big stakeholders and you have to listen to them [even though] you know it’s not valuable to your project.” So he tries as much as possible to “limit the invitation list and do the groundwork ahead of time to let them know what the objectives are.”

Officially Shorten Your Meetings

Eddie, a PMO director for a global aeronautics organization, suggests setting your meetings for 50 minutes. There’s nothing “magical” about the typical hour most meetings are scheduled for, he says. By starting on the hour and ending at 50 minutes after the hour, “That gives you five minutes after the meeting ends to shut down and turn off the projector and gives the next meeting five minutes before the meeting to get set up.” It also gives people time to walk to their next meeting, which is a major consideration in big companies.

Once you get that into that habit, Eddie notes, “People get used to it. Just reset your clock.”

Assign a Gatekeeper

Rick, PMO manager for a professional services organization that helps clients migrate their data center, data analysis, unified communications and networking infrastructures to cloud applications, says that he sees a lot of time wasted in meetings for two reasons:

  • They lack “a good facilitator to keep things on track”; and
  • They don’t have “a concise agenda that talks about what the relevant issues are and what the goals and objectives of the meetings are.”

He offers several tricks for minimizing wasted time and achieving results.

In his organization, as soon as the meeting invitation is sent out, so is the agenda. The facilitator, typically the project manager, is charged with making sure “we stay on that track and stay on that agenda and don’t take those little rabbit trails every meeting has.”

One unique touch is the assignment of a “secondary gatekeeper” to one of the other people on the team. As Rick explains, it’s that person’s job to speak up during the meeting: “OK. Wait. Stop right now. We’re going down a rabbit hole. Let’s get back on track.”

The addition of the gatekeeper role has allowed Rick to cut his meetings from 90 minutes to 50 minutes each week. That has given back each member of his team 40 minutes of “billable time.” “That’s revenue to the company instead of to my meeting.”