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I'm a new Project Launch Manager at a corporation similar to Oracle that develops and sells Enterprise apps. I'm inexperienced in my role but I am a self starter and work hard. My problem is that this first Product Launch I am assigned to--I'm having a difficult time to get people to show up to online meetings. These initial meetings are important to assign deliverables, set due dates, and condense checklists and bill of materials documents. The people that I am working with are from all over the world--UK, Netherlands, U.S ect..When i set these WebEx conference calls either they will accept and not show up or decline. I feel that I am going to have this problem all throughout the release process. Can anyone recommend any solutions or methods that I can use? Thanks!

  • Are these people you are meeting with clients or coworkers? – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 25 '16 at 20:24
  • Hi Chad. They are co-workers representing different functional areas within the release i.e Product Management, Marketing, Pre-Sales/Sales, Support ect... – Ben Stien May 25 '16 at 20:27
  • How many people are you trying to schedule for these meetings? – Marc May 25 '16 at 20:32
  • At the moment, 3 people in UK, 1 in NE, and 3 in Atlanta. – Ben Stien May 25 '16 at 20:33
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    At the risk of stating the obvious, you are accounting for time zone differences when you send these meeting requests, aren't you? There's a five hour difference between Atlanta and the UK. I know I'd instantly decline and have a good laugh at the silly American PM if I got a request for a meeting at 1800. – Lilienthal May 26 '16 at 6:34
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First do some glad handing. Talk personally with the people you are inviting and get their buy-in to attend the meetings. Its best if you can do this in person but if not even over the phone helps. Explain what you are trying to accomplish, why their attendance is important, and find a time they are available.

Limit the people you are inviting to the people actually needed for the call. If they do not need their input or feed back for the call better to offer them an optional invite and send them the summary. The last thing anyone needs is another meeting where they have no real reason to be there.

Always get the managers buy in on the project before you invite members of their team. Get the manager to assign people and get them to be involved with following the progress of the project. Pressure from above goes a long way toward getting people to attend meetings they might otherwise want to skip.

A spoonful of sugar can go a long way with people. Make people feel special and like their involvement with the project means a lot to you. Compliment the work they do and give positive feedback to their bosses where appropriate. Often times Corporate Drones feel stuck in their cubes and unappreciated. A little recognition can go a long way towards getting them fully engaged in your project, which can often make a huge difference in the success or failure of the project.

  • Thanks, Chad. Great advice. I'm going to use some of the tips you've provided here. I think getting initial buy-in independently and getting manager approval will go a long way. Definitely shifting to this strategy. – Ben Stien May 25 '16 at 20:40
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Based on my experience with working with developers, product owners, etc. in different time zones, the key things are having the right people, having the meetings are the right times, and having the right frequency of meetings.

Working across times zones usually means one or more people need to be in the meeting outside of regular hours. Typically, I was the one that worked the odd hours to ensure everyone else would be in the meetings during working hours. In another team we were just one or two people in three time zones so we just agreed from meeting to meeting who would get the crappy time.

Making sure you have the right people in the meetings is important. Some would be required and others may be optional. In some cases those people may change from meeting to meeting depending on the agenda. When scheduling the meeting make sure the required people are all in agreement on the time.

For the people that are required, ensure you stress that these meetings aren't optional. I've had to go over peoples heads in the past. In some cases talking to their manager was cleared things up. In other cases we decided the person wasn't the right person for the project and they were replaced. This can be a tricky situation with coworkers as it can't affect working relationships.

Limiting the frequency of the meetings will also help, especially if there's a need for some people to be in the meeting during non standard working hours.

Consider splitting up the meeting into smaller meetings where possible. More people usually means longer meetings. With too many items to cover you may end up with people sitting in on a long meeting where they were only needed for a short time. These people are less likely to show up to the next meeting.

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Is this meeting necessary? Sounds like some of your people are telling you its not, and that their time is better spent doing anything else.

Make the meeting productive by: setting (and follow) an agenda, a list of things to cover. Set action points and assign them to people with an expectation the action points are done by a certain date. Note all this in some minutes while the meeting runs, and publish the minutes via email within 5 min of meeting close.

Too many people in the call can also distract from the purpose. There's no point in having dozens of people on when the information is only relevant to a smaller group. Set-up several different shorter meetings optimally for the immediately relevant people.

Also, video calls suck. Seriously, have an audio call rather than a video call. There's little benefit in seeing everyone's face, and video can be a turn-off for the average geek.

Finally - leading a meeting is way harder than simply attending a meeting. Consider asking someone in management for advice on how to improve the handling of the meeting, and then the users will come.

Extra: DO cancel meetings if there's nothing worth covering by the group.

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    Meeting is necessary. It is a meeting to connect different functional areas within the project i.e Product Management, Marketing, Development and to set agenda items, deliverables, and due dates. – Ben Stien May 26 '16 at 20:42
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    These are audio calls not video calls and they done via WebEx and screen sharing to work on action items described above. Absolutely essential to the initiation of the project. One point I did get from you is to create a clear bulleted agenda with clear expectations in the email. – Ben Stien May 26 '16 at 20:44
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    And these are working sessions designed for 4-6 people max. – Ben Stien May 26 '16 at 20:48
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Identify the key people you need who haven't been making it. Call them up one by one before you schedule the next one, with the time in mind.

Hi, John. This is Steve, I'm the new Project Launch Manager over at X office/department. As you're aware we're setting up meetings to define schedule and deliverables for Y Project. I know you are an essential part of this because you are the lead developer/budget analyst/technical manager on this project/at the UK office/on the ABC project. It's really important to me that I get your input. I'm looking at setting up the next meeting next Tuesday at 4pm your local time. Does that work for you? ... In the future are there days/times that are easier/more common in your office? If you have any other feedback on how we've been organizing the meetings I'd love to hear it. ... Thanks looking forward to you representing at the meeting, I know you have a lot of valuable skills and perspective to contribute and I look forward to hearing from you in the meetings.

This does the following things:

  • Puts a friendly voice to your name/email
  • Makes them feel important/valued
  • Restates what the purpose is for busy people who don't read every single meeting invitation
  • Gives them some input on when/how you are holding your meetings
  • Makes them feel like stakeholders not victims

The important part to add to this is, if you are running your meetings where you are delivering due dates and deadlines and goals without the group's input, you do not need a meeting. If someone is speaking up saying "Hey Steve, we can't make that date" you need to listen to them. If you say "Sure you can, the last project we did you got it done in 200 hours and I'm confident you can do in 100 this time" or say "sorry, that's the date management has assigned" you do not need a meeting. Just send emails out with the dates and call people individually. If you are not inviting feedback/willing to be flexible, that might be why people aren't attending. Or if every question/piece of information just gets agreement, you probably don't need regular meetings either. This is your job to manage this thing so it's important to you. It's probably their job to code/generate work and that's what's important to them. They don't get brownie points for spending an hour listening to schedule updates. If you work on ways to remove barriers to them getting their jobs done they will also value you more.

  • Thanks, great points and great email example. Your last paragraph is very helpful advice for the long term or once a project is underway. This question is more for the initial meetings where we set initial probable due dates and have working sessions to understand deliverables. – Ben Stien May 26 '16 at 20:50
  • The quoted part was meant for a script for what you would say on the phone to them. I'm suggesting you pick up the phone and call people who haven't been showing and use that as your script to talking with them. If you just keep emailing / sending calendar invites, people won't really make the personal connection and might keep blowing you off. – TechnicalEmployee May 26 '16 at 22:11
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Do you just set the dates? maybe the people don't have time when you have? Try setting up a meeting using doodle. Also point out they should suggest other dates that would work for them.

http://doodle.com

Also, is it neccessary for all of them to show up at the same time? Can't you give them the task independently?

And Europe-US has a time difference of up to 9 hours if you live on the west coast, that means one team has to do the meeting when they start working, the other team before they leave.

  • There is a Scheduling Assistant on Outlook where you can check which time slots are free for everyone and I make them based on that. The first 2 were at a lat time slot for UK and Netherlands, so I've resorted to setting them earlier which ends up being 6 AM my time. There have still been people that don't show after accepting citing that they have a new conflict or decline from the outset. – Ben Stien May 25 '16 at 20:30
  • Yes, this is a good suggestion to give them tasks independently. But it's much more efficient and agile to have the whole team on and speak have cross-organizational communication – Ben Stien May 25 '16 at 20:32
  • for example: we are 6 people and we usually reschedule every second meeting due to new arising conflicts, urgent bugfixes, new client meetings, just stuff that is more important. would be probably impossible to ever get a meeting done with more people or if we were across an ocean. – user50999 May 25 '16 at 20:35
  • also it is okay to do the meeting when most people are there, just give the others a memo what happened or if possible even a video of the chat? you won't get perfect input then, but those ideas can be discussed later too. – user50999 May 25 '16 at 20:36
  • Yes this is something that I can definitely look towards for the future. Record the meeting and send to stakeholders and discuss later. – Ben Stien May 25 '16 at 20:44

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