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Background - I'm the technical lead on a software project. I came up from software engineering and I am responsible for technical interaction with the customer, other vendors, the software product team, and I still get to write some code. I work under a project manager.

Problem/Challenge - Frequently there will be seemingly simple questions from the customer. I'll consult with my experts, and let my PM know this came up. Frequently its a relatively simple answer or action to address my customers question. Despite this, my PM very frequently responds "I can email $CUSTOMER_PM and $CUSTOMER_TECH_GUY and 3 other people and have a meeting". I don't feel a meeting is necessary, its something that can be handled offline, is not urgent, and in fact is better expressed in writing than a phone meeting.

Meetings can be good, but I feel that they are often called when they aren't needed. It wastes my time and creates extra work for more people.

Questions -

  • Is there something I'm missing, from a general project management perspective, where calling a meeting is a default action? Is there a reason for this?
  • How can I politely, clearly, and properly explain that this doesn't really warrant a meeting? If the action is in scope I can simply iron it out man to man with my technical counterparts.
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    Call a meeting. – Rarity Aug 28 '12 at 14:17
  • You need a good talk to the PM talking about appropriateness of when to call a meeting and the importance of meeting the schedule... – Oded Aug 28 '12 at 14:24
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My response to this is usually something like, "Let me talk to this other person first, and if necessary, we can call the meeting." Also, if you can solve the problem without the PM, why don't you? An email message to keep the PM in the loop or to ask for permission or a schedule adjustment may be all that is necessary.

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    I 100% agree with the trying to solve the problem without the project manager. If one is the technical you need to be the filter for everyone else. This means if the client wants to change the background of a single image, you don't need to call a meeting, unless the background of said image cannot be changed for some reason. – Ramhound Aug 28 '12 at 16:02
  • Ultimately accepted this because thats what I did and it worked. "Hey guys I got this, will email X to customer, get their input, and make it so. No need for a meeting" – Freiheit Aug 29 '12 at 13:52
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The reason for doing it is (and I admit I'm cynical, but this is still roughly true): what other value does the project manager bring to the project? Their goal is to make sure that the software is delivered to the satisfaction of the client. To be perceived to be doing that, they should be asking the client whether they're satisfied and what needs to be done.

Let me rewrite part of the above now:

Their goal is to make sure that the software is delivered to the satisfaction of the client.

With this emphasis, the project manager's task is to remove impediments to the technical activities: and yes, a meeting is indeed [potentially...] an impediment because it uses time that could perhaps be put to better use building the thing. It also sounds like you're getting frustrated by the meetings which isn't helping the progress of the project.

So that's the tack you can use for discussing the frequency of meetings with your project manager: they're slowing down the project.

Another thing you can do which I've used to good effect, but which is a bit more of a nuclear strike option, is just to decline the meeting invites. If the PM complains (which, in my experience, they do the first couple of times) you can tell them you've got some details from your counterparts that you're working to, but you'd appreciate being given a summary of the meeting outcome to deletecompare with what you've already got done.

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    This is good insight. I see my job in terms of what I need to do as a tech lead/engineer. Graham has helped clarify how the PM sees her job. – Freiheit Aug 29 '12 at 13:51
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This is a pretty standard mindset of an Agile-style project management strategy, although it is taking the whole "feedback and re-think" part a bit far.

Normally in Agile dev situations, the customer will be contacted either every X number of days/weeks/unit of time, or after any pre-determined milestone along the project's timeline (building the framework, prototyping the GUI, first/limited roll-out, etc...).

However, sometimes project managers can go a bit overboard, and then you get this mindset of requiring feedback/input on every decision. In your situation, the fact that it is the customer asking a question, means that your PM is most likely interpreting that as "the customer needs some information, we should update/get feedback from them!!!!!" You should simply explain that a meeting is not necessary, because the issue/question is incredibly simple, and the customer might not want you guys to waste their time. Also, it might be good to ask your PM to either put together a set schedule for meetings, or get them to ask the customer to request meetings whenever they feel it is needed.

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    Actually, I don't think that is good Agile-style management. While it's true that agile methods emphasize frequent communication, they do not require constant meetings. Ideally, a customer rep is on-site, such that you can just ask them informally; otherwise, phone/email is fine. Actually, most agile methods try to reduce formalisms, such as official meetings. – sleske Aug 31 '12 at 11:41
  • @sleske I only said standard, not good. to be completely honest, I dislike agile. alot. I very much prefer to be given extremely specific requirements, and then build through until those requirements are met. – acolyte Aug 31 '12 at 12:54
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    I also prefer to be given specific requirements and just build them. Unfortunately this just never happens - which is why agile methods were invented :-). – sleske Aug 31 '12 at 13:26

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