It's just 15 minutes...

As a project manager, I know part of my job is to keep people, who may not directly report to me, on schedule for tasks that have been assigned to them. Lately I've been dealing with more disruptions to my schedules and finally took some time to look at the root cause of the problem. The disruptions weren't to the level of "the contractor missed their estimate by 2 weeks" or "the building is 8" too short" 1, but more subtle ones that were letting tasks were slip by a day or two. After spending some time reviewing my project notes I found some of the gaps that were disrupting my projects.

Missed the meeting

The first schedule disruption was also the largest. This one typically revolved around a co-worker who was supposed to attend a meeting but never showed up. I would look back and see they wouldn't accept or decline the meeting, they just left it as tentative on their calendar because Outlook knew they had a pending meeting invite in their inbox. I would send out meeting minutes and eventually they'd stop by my office to ask a few questions.

[Knock on my office door]
Mgr: Hey I'm sorry I missed the meeting, can we go over a few question I have from the meeting?
Me: Can we do this another time, I'm tied up right now?
Mgr: It's no big deal, it will only take 15 minutes.

They would then proceed to go through their questions, which would have been answered if they had read the meeting notes, for the next 15 minutes.

I missed the meeting

Similar to the first example, but in this case I was unable to attend a meeting. A day or two after the meeting I'd bump into the other project manager in hallway.

Me: Hey, sorry I couldn't attend the status meeting. Can you send me the meeting minutes so I can catch up on what happened?
PM: Uhh, I don't have any. Why don't we catch up for 15 minutes after lunch and I can answer any questions you have.
Me: Sure.

We then work out a time to sit down and have a meeting on the meeting.

Late to meeting

One of the common tools we use for progress meetings is a quick video or web conference call. The conference call starts and 15 minutes into the meeting someone joins late. Sometimes they just join quietly and catch up as the discussion continues. Sometimes they don't.

Mgr: Sorry I'm late, what'd I miss?
PM: I can catch you up at the end of the meeting.
Mgr: Just give me a quick recap.
PM: Ok.
[15 min spent restarting meeting]

So the entire group is placed on hold for about 15 minutes for the PM and the Mgr to go back and forth.

15 minute math

After looking at some of my notes, I realized I was losing my project schedules 15 minutes at time. After doing the math I was shocked at how much time was being lost. Being conservative in the number of disruptions per week, I came up with the following:

15 min/disruption * 4 disruptions/wk * 50 wk/yr = 50 hour/yr


Who wouldn't want an entire work week back to focus on their own priorities either at home or at work.

Root cause

Now in the end, I was as guilty as some of my co-workers I mentioned above. I let others manipulate my calendar, allow them to waste my time, or allow them disrupt my meeting.

Here are some ways I'm trying to reclaim my time:

  • Ensure meeting minutes are sent out after a meeting. If someone wants to follow up about the meeting, I'll decline and direct them to read the meeting minutes and send me an email with their questions. Generally they'll read the notes and it will either be too much trouble to write the email or they'll get the answers they were looking for. Either way I'm spared the 15 minutes of having to rehash the same meeting again.
  • If another PM isn't sending out meeting notes, I'll just wait until the next progress meeting to catch up. If I was assigned an action item out of the meeting, I'll drop the PM an email with the specific questions I have. This way I'm driving my information request on my schedule, not theirs.
  • When someone comes in late, I generally don't acknowledge them when the arrive. I'll continue the meeting for everyone who arrived on time. Now this only works so far. If an executive is participating in your meeting, shows up late, and then asks for a recap, you're probably inclined to oblige.

These are small steps I'm trying to make to keep my calendar focused to work on the things I need to get done.

Because it's just 15 minutes...

  1. Ok... so that actually happened once.