How to setup a progress meeting [Free Template included]

Complex projects require ponderous efforts in properly tracking all those issues which may jeopardize their smooth execution. 

Like a waterfall, problems come continuously up on your desk. You may have closed a top issue right now and here we are, three new problems are already requiring your attention. That's it.

PROGRESS MEETING: Unless you have a magic stick to nip in the bud every single issue, it is likely to go on and on and be soon in a situation where the number of open items increases faster than the number of the "closed" checks you can mark them with.

One of the best practice promoted by project management methods to systematically follow up those problems interacting with multiple interfaces and stakeholders is the progress meeting.

The goal to keep in mind is as simple as ambitious:

A progress meeting is aimed to capture from time to time all the ongoing critical issues affecting the project, including those of interest of the invited stakeholders and necessary to move milestones.
Once all the items are captured, it is time to identify the top issues, to agree about the actions, the owners, the deadlines and to review any previously closed item that participants may need to refresh their logs.

The meeting usually takes place on a periodic basis, weekly or biweekly depending on the magnitude of the project. The meeting can be face to face, or organized as a conference/video call.

Adequate advance notice is required to ensure invited people will attend.

Once set the appropriate rhythm, the meeting holder should lead the conversation in such a way to agree on new actions and to review past commitments with the participants, until all the issues are closed and there is a full consensus on the path forward.

The progress meeting is not supposed to be an exercise for the pleasure to keep a good communication channel, but a moment devoted to an objective evaluation of what are the roadblocks to achieve the next milestones.

Everything relevant is being said and it is worth to record for initiating actions needs to go into the set of minutes, which can be an adhoc form to be used each time people meet. For this kind of meeting it is not suggested to use a regular MOM template as it may not suit the scope (periodic changes, ease of filtering etc..)

There is plenty of tools in the market to work out and keep in good shape the set of minutes, but if all what you have is a blank spreadsheet, here is how you may set it up and be effective.

Few suggestions to compile a template:
  1. An appropriate title to be assigned to the document and kept unchanged till the last session. Quality control is also about how diligently we keep track of the project documentation, so it is recommended not to underestimate the importance of this little detail!
  2. The date of release to be added to the file name each time this is circulated by email or other media.
  3. Each and every action agreed need to have its deadline, or a TBD (to be defined) advising that the item has to be rediscussed within an agreed timeframe in turn
  4. If an issue is discussed in more than one session and different subtopics or actions are under discussion, it is suggested to create further sub-rows associated with them.
  5. Each and every action agreed need to have an owner indicated, the name of the company in charge for the closure is enough if a specific person and a role is not known at the time the discussion takes place.
  6. Actions have to be specific. Any ambiguity in the description may generate confusion to readers who did not attend the meeting and received the MOM by email or other media.
  7. The closed items need to remain on the spreadsheet, archived and moved in a separate sheet or left in the main one just marked/highlighted with a different color, so that they do not distract the readers. The advantage here being that the log of past discussions can be retrieved and used in case of need anytime.
  8. Last but not least recommendation. Project the spreadsheet at every instance of the progress meeting, take notes real time into the file and circulate the consolidated document right after the meeting. People will perceive that action as a good result of the time spent and will have the change to promptly review it to complete their deliverables ontime.
As example, let's consider a potential scenario where 5 main issues are identified and tracked and the progress meeting is called (2 of 5 are still open, the other points were closed prior to the date of the meeting in subject).
The spreadsheet worked out according to the above guidelines looks like the below picture:

Project X - Progress Meeting @ Sept 1st, 2012.

The native file is available here for those of you who are interested in downloading it for their own use or customization.

As usual, comments are appreciated to share different and effective ways to follow up. Have a good progress meeting!