~ By Kenneth Darter
Meetings are the lifeblood of a project. Whether they are held in person or virtually, there is no better way to communicate and make decisions. There are times, though, when short, regular meetings will not take care of everything, and there will be the need for a summit. A summit is an all-day meeting, even multiple all-day meetings, where a particular topic is discussed until there is a definitive conclusion or decision for the team to move forward with. It could be a meeting where requirements are defined and agreed upon, testing cases are written, or when the entire project team needs to assess out the nitty-gritty details of the schedule. Preparing for and leading these types of meetings are different from facilitating regularly scheduled meetings. The project manager will need to do more homework and prep work to lead a summit meeting.
The first step in organising a summit is to come up with a schedule. In a way, this is just like creating a mini project plan. There should be a scope statement that lets everyone know what needs to be accomplished in the summit, and the project manager must make sure they stick to that scope and do not suffer from scope creep during the meetings. The schedule for the summit meeting will help everyone plan and be ready for the meetings to be successful and useful instead of being just another aimless meeting.
You need to make sure that meetings are paced well, just as runners pace themselves during a race. Trying to squeeze everything into one day may not work; do not be afraid to schedule multiple days if there is a good reason for it, but they must be planned out well in advance. If you finish part of it early, then everyone gets a break, but it is important to not try and work too hard to get everything done too quickly. Not pacing yourself will just lead to burning people out. You might feel that if one topic has been discussed and finished, then you need to immediately start the next topic, but in reality, it may be more helpful to let people be done early so they can come in rested and refreshed to start on something else the next day.
One last piece of advice, that should go without saying, is be respectful to the people in the meeting. The facilitator and the management team need to be aware that everyone in the meeting has other things to do and obligations that must be met. Keeping people past the scheduled end-time, just because things are not finishing as quickly as you want them to, or trying to convince others to stay late because you want to get something finished, will only serve to demoralise the entire team. If you want to have a successful summit meeting, then it is time to practise your people skills and learn to play well with others.