Hump-Day: a Project Manager’s Perspective

During a workshop a few months ago one of the participants asked me an interesting question. He wanted to know what I would recommend as the best day to hold a weekly project status meeting.

I do not believe I had ever discussed this before, but my recommendation was pretty much a no-brainer: if you can manage it, choose Wednesdays!

At this point other participants offered up their opinions and it turned out we had quite a few practitioners who favored Mondays or Tuesdays to take status in order to focus the team on the new work week, and others who preferred holding their status meetings on a Thursday or Friday to wrap up the accomplishments for the current week.

Where your status meeting falls will probably always be a mix of your own experience and preferences and your customer sponsor’s availability, and I am not attempting to sell my recommendation as gospel truth, but here are some reasons for championing good old Hump Day.

A few years ago I was People Change Manager on a hospital project that was tasked with changing out the facility’s old card punching system with a biometric fingerprint reading system. Hospital management had been made aware of the fact that employees would occasionally punch in using their colleagues’ cards, so the old system was neither very safe nor very accurate. The hospital had also contracted with another vendor, who was supplying and installing the readers. Our project team was responsible for the software, data, communication with hospital staff and training.

While we were in transition with old readers removed and the new readers being installed the hospital did not have an active time punch system, and so management was watching our progress very carefully in the hopes of keeping unchecked coming and going of employees to a minimum.

During our routine Friday status meeting with our sponsor our project manager reported the project status as green. We had completed all the tasks scheduled for the week, fingerprinting employees and loading the data at the projected rate and speed. After the status meeting we were winding down, some team members started to leave for the weekend and I stayed behind a little, because I needed to discuss room allocation for a training event the following week with the project manager.

As we were talking the project manager’s phone rang and from the level of volume on the other end it sounded like his caller was not a very happy person. It transpired that after our status meeting the vendor had also submitted their status, and from their perspective the project wasn’t green at all, in fact they had indicated they were in the red on their schedule. So the angry caller was our hospital project sponsor wanting to know what the heck was going on. How could we tell him the project was doing great when it obviously wasn’t?

Well, it was now 4:30 on a Friday afternoon – most of our team was not on site any more, my project manager had just been as good as called a liar and we had no idea what was going on. We scrambled around for an hour or so, eventually got a hold of someone from the hardware vendor company and a copy of their status report and found out that several of the readers installed during the week were not functioning properly and would have to be exchanged. This would set the project back by about a week, which was not something our client wanted to hear, but it also explained the discrepancy between our status green and their status red.

Our project had reported correctly – from our perspective, but since we were not project managing the vendor, we had been unaware of their difficulties. By the time the project manager had his facts together and rang our sponsor, however, he could not be reached, and the whole unpleasant mess had to wait until the following Monday to get straightened out.

With a status meeting on a Wednesday we could have sorted everything the next day and maybe even have brainstormed with the vendor for a solution to reduce the project delay. Status meetings at the end of the week leave little time to address issues that get flagged up.

So what about the start of the week? To me that depends a little on how you use your status meetings. If they are a time to allocate work as well as take status, then maybe you want to start your week this way. However, I keep work assignment and status meetings separate. I will have a quick stand-up on Monday morning to ensure everyone knows what’s coming up that week and find out if I need to re-allocate tasks because of last-minute conflicts or out-times. After that people can immerse themselves in clearing their back-log of emails and whatever else has accumulated over the weekend. It also gives me two days of time to see how everything is going, talk to team members and assemble my status report for later in the week.

For my status meeting I usually release the status report ahead of time, so everyone has a chance to read it. I rarely take status during the meeting, since people can read, but rather concentrate on areas that I already know are status yellow or red and figure out with the team how to get back on track. In addition to that I pretty much run my status meeting off my issues log. Open issues become agenda items. They are discussed and their progress or resolution is documented. New issues are brought up, described and assigned owners and due dates. This way we have both meeting minutes and action items for the next status meeting.

If I tried to do this on a Monday I would not have sufficient time to assemble all of the information for the status report, and people may have a harder time giving me status since they have to get back into the swing of things themselves.

Over the years I’ve really come to like the cadence of starting the week with  a quick look ahead, then see where we are, put together a status report and have everyone get together to trouble-shoot mid-week and then spend the last two days getting right on top of newly opened issues.

So if you’re a project manager you don’t have to be called Mike to get to like Hump Days!