Too Many Conference Calls
© Conrad Weisert, Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago
5 September, 1999

NOTE: This document may be circulated or quoted from freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

We used to observe that projects that were "in trouble" held too many team meetings and most of the meetings were too long. Indeed the weekly or even daily "status meeting" was a sure indicator of an out-of-control project.

Well, that's still going on today, but in a new form. Geographically spread out project teams are relying more and more on the scheduled conference call as a primary tool of communication. At a reserved time, everyone on the team phones in to a special number and is connected. The project manager then presides over an agenda or open-issues list.

Not surprisingly, the new medium is working no better than the old one, and in some ways it's even worse. Both face-to-face status meetings and conference calls exhibit these serious project-mangement problems:

The main positive impact, if there is one, is to make an inexperienced or incompetent project manager feel good about his or her leadership: "Look how firm, decisive, and on top of everything I am."

The obvious negative impact is to conceal the true status until late in the project. Management and project sponsors get optimistic status reports week after week until shortly before the announced target date. (See also The Burden of Proof in Project Estimating.

In addition to those problems with both kinds of meeting, the conference call imposes these:

Project planning and control are complex and rigorous disciplines, but we know how to do them. Occasional conference calls or meetings have a place, especially in instilling team spirit in the early stages of a project. But using them as an ongoing primary means of managing a project is naive and extremely unlikely to succeed.

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