We are huge advocates for asynchronous work. Using email and Slack properly can help you keep communication lines open while protecting your time for Deep Work. Writing up your thoughts on a topic instead of starting with a meeting will help all team members get a chance to contribute and stay up to date. There are many great tools for sharing ideas that don’t require everyone to stop what they’re doing and join a meeting.

You should only use meetings when you absolutely, positively, have to. Meetings are the most expensive and time-consuming way to collaborate. They demand the full attention of a large group of people. With more international cross time-zone collaboration happening every day, meetings can be a really invasive request on other people’s schedules.

The one time where we’ve consistently found a routine weekly check-in meeting to be truly valuable is on a big important project, particularly with a new client. The weekly check-in meeting will help kick off large projects where you’re making something out of nothing. What is intangible at the idea phase becomes tangible overtime as the project comes to life.

The weekly check-ins bring communication together while immediately resolving questions and confusion for everyone. It is a fantastic opportunity to share thoughts and receive instant feedback from the client. You’ll gain confidence and trust, as well as building a deep understanding of the client’s requirements for future work.

THIS FEELS LIKE A WASTE OF TIME AND A BURDEN ON EVERYONE’S SCHEDULE

Are you still hesitant about committing to weekly check-in meetings with clients on big projects? Does it seem unnecessary and like a big distraction?

Look, you’ve closed this big deal. The client invested a lot of trust in you and awaits amazing results. This a great opportunity to remind the client why they picked you, and show the problem being solved. Be willing to get on weekly meetings even if the updates are short and sweet. You’ll build trust and rapport.

Why do you hesitate initially?

  1. A meeting seems like a distraction from “real work.” You’re focused on the day-to-day and ultimate end results of the project. On top of that, now you need to carve out time to prepare for weekly check-in meetings? That’s just more work for you. Feelings of being overwhelmed and overworked can easily spring up.
  2. The weekly check-ins cost a lot in time and resources. You’ll need to invite different project stakeholders to join from different geographic locations in-person, via phone call, or by video conference call. Furthermore, a successful meeting requires good Wi-Fi connection, a quality headset, some focus and a solid agenda.
  3. Meeting preparation can be stressful if you are an introvert. Avoiding stress often feels better. You won’t feel stress the night before, and the meeting won’t be in the back of your mind if it’s simply non-existent. If your client isn’t expecting them, everything will feel fine – until it doesn’t.

SOME REASONS WEEKLY CHECK-IN MEETINGS WILL BE GREAT

Plenty of benefits exist from weekly check-in meetings with clients.

  1. People often have to hear a concept at least 7 times to really remember it. It may feel tedious to you, but repetition is an effective way to gain clarity on project deliverables. Communicating shifts in priorities and decisions early is less expensive for everyone. Keep in mind that repetitive communication should still be clear and concise. Be careful not to miscommunicate and not leave out information because it can lead to costly issues later.
  2. Weekly check-in meetings with clients align all stakeholders, so setbacks or roadblocks aren’t also surprises. Existing limitations and next steps are ongoing discussions. The more time you spend talking with the client, the more you build a meaningful sense of trust. Mistakes and miscommunications are bound to happen on big projects, and having that weekly forum to identify them quickly can be a life saver.
  3. Knowing that you have a check-in meeting coming up can be a powerful motivator for getting something over the finish line. That last 20% on any task can be a real challenge for creative procrastinators. Having a time every week where you ask yourself “what’s done that we can show folks at our next meeting” is a healthy habit to start.

WHAT GOES INTO A WELL MANAGED WEEKLY CHECK-IN MEETING?

There’s a few key rules that should always be followed, and a few best practices that can shift around depending on preferences. 

Make it the same time & day every week.

As the meeting organizer, select the same time and day every week so it becomes a habit. Meeting attendees can build it into their schedules, and it’s not a constant negotiation for when we’re going to meet next. As long as you’re consistent, that specific time and day will be reserved. It is valuable for attendees to know they have that forum with you every week.

A time block of 20 minutes is great, though keep the whole hour open on your end. A 20-minute meeting will look smaller and more tolerable on the client’s calendar. If there’s not much to talk about, it’s still important to hold the meeting for a 10-minute check in, you never know what might come up.  

Only invite people who need to be there.

The core meeting group should always represent a single lead project manager from all consistently involved teams. As the project matures, you can pull in other stakeholders as timing makes sense. This can include the account manager, interested executives, business analysts, and subject matter experts.

These meetings are to build trust and make sure goals are aligned. Other topics can have other meetings. Don’t invite your whole team. Don’t make talent sit through an hour of talking that has nothing to do with the work they perform.

Remember that every person you invite is going to exponentially grow the number of interpersonal relationships you have to manage, and the point of this meeting is to build tight trusting relationships. If someone’s not going to add significant value, make it clear they do not need to attend. 

Send out a clear agenda before the meeting.

Sending out a clear meeting agenda at least 24 hours in advance is very helpful. The client and other stakeholders need a chance to understand the main talking points and prepare questions.

A good agenda will typically:

  • Start with anything that was completed this week.
  • List things that are in-progress now.
  • List things that are going to be started between now and next week.
  • Use bullet points as a list and stay brief. If you find yourself just reading the agenda verbatim in the meeting, it might be too verbose.
  • Builds in time for QA at the end of each section.

Email the agenda as a PDF attachment the day before the meeting. We always just add a page for the new agenda to the top of last week’s agenda and send the whole running document each time. That makes it easy for anyone CC’d to see all of the work that has gone into this project over its whole life. People can revisit meeting updates on their own time in an organized manner. 

Keep the meeting moving

When it comes time to start your meeting, keep control of the room. Structure the meetings the same way each time. It helps clients and other stakeholders understand the expectations.

Start with light chit-chat. Keep it brief. You don’t want to wait too long to get the meeting started. For us that’s typically 2-3 minutes of small talk, but we let the client set the tone for how much or little of this is desired. One thing we try to be careful about is not starting the actual meeting until everyone who is going to come is actually present. It’s no fun to have to repeat the first items in your agenda over and over as people wander in late.

Once you’re ready to start, give a high level update on the project status and the agenda for the meeting:

“Things are going well, we’ve got a couple of issues make sure you understand about these new features, and then we’ll do a quick re-hash of goals for next week before Q&A.”

This gives people the opportunity to remember the meeting’s purpose.

Typically, clients want to know whether the project is on track and if any action is required from their end. Be ready for those questions. If you’re worried the client is going to ask after something, go ahead and put it on the agenda beforehand and have a clear answer for what’s going on. The meeting will not have much meaning if actionable items are not provided to stakeholders in attendance, or if you can’t answer the questions raised.

Unless you’ve gone long, ask each specific team member if they have anything to add before the meeting ends. It makes them feel included as key contributors. Once all the questions are answered, provide an overview of next steps for the following week.

If things consistently go long, remind people this is a check-in meeting and you can take debates “off-line” into (ideally) decision documents or other calls with just those stakeholders. If you’ve got some consistently long winded talkers, having a “hard stop at the end of the hour” is a great approach to respecting everyone’s time. 

Flexibility & Attendance

Moving the meeting around every week isn’t great. Ask if there’s another day/time that would be easier for everyone to consistently make.

Going past 30 minutes is fine if the client prefers longer meetings, but most people have a hard time paying attention for more than 45 minutes. Also consider if it is still productive and valuable for everyone attending.

You should never be late because it can lead others to follow. Nip tardiness in the bud early. It affects meeting attendance in the long-term and can cause unnecessary stress. Small talk is a great way to cover for a few minutes if you have senior team members who are running late. If a senior team member is consistently late, offer in an private email to them that they can likely skip the meeting to free up some of their busy schedule unless you believe they are a truly key resource.

If project team members stop attending at any point, contact them after the meeting. Ask them if they would like an overview of the main takeaways or just be dropped from the invite list. Clearly ask if the meeting time still works with their schedule. This conversation will help the missing team member realize how important their attendance is. If there is specific feedback as to why the team member stopped attending, this is the perfect time to understand why. If they’re not a project manager or key stakeholder, they probably have just been invited as a courtesy and there’s no reason you should be a drag on their calendar. 

Don’t lose control of the meeting.

This is YOUR meeting, you run it. Don’t lose control of the agenda. This happens when a meeting attendee gives lengthy feedback that is disconnected from the agenda. You can simply say “okay, this feels bigger than today and we’ll take it off-line” to get the agenda back on track.

This can be particularly challenging when a senior executive shows up with a concern that isn’t on the agenda. In this situation it’s okay to let them derail your agenda while they express their question. You should then reiterate what you heard them say clearly so they know the message got through. If there’s a simple “Yes – we’re already doing that” answer that won’t encourage further discussion, offer that to them. If it’s going to be a larger debate or more nuanced conversation, offer to extend the check-in meeting to explore that:

“I hear you’re concerned about how we’re solving problem X, I know we’ve just got 20 minutes scheduled for this check-in meeting, but if everyone’s willing to go longer I’d love to tell you about our solution to X, I just need to be respectful of everyone’s schedule. Should we quickly blast through these agenda items first, or can we all go long today?”

This gives people a path out, while still being respectful to the senior executive.

Keep sensitive topics private. 

It may be inappropriate to talk about money in this forum. If there’s scoping issues, consider writing the options up in an email and offering a meeting to discuss to just the approving parties.

It’s not good to bring up any HR or performance issues here, as the involved parties will feel defensive in a group and you’ll look insensitive.

Don’t make closed door decisions.

Think of any decision as a doorway you’re about to step through. Start to evaluate how easy it will be to take a step backwards if you discover you don’t like the room you’re in. Decisions that are easy to undo are open door decisions. It’s not that expensive or time consuming to revisit them, so you’re best off just trying to make them quickly. Decisions that are big commitments and will be problematic to undo later are closed door decisions. These should be considered very carefully. The thought process behind deciding them should be documented clearly so everyone can be heard and you have a paper trail on who made the decision and how.

If you feel like you’re making closed door decisions with your client in a weekly check-in meeting, you’re playing pretty fast and loose. As soon as its clear there isn’t an easy answer to a question, or that its a closed door decision, we say “let’s take that off-line.” We then write up a decision brief so there’s a clear paper trail on the perspectives and final decision. 

Be ready to stop having the check-in.

You may get the sense that the weekly check-in is not needed any more. When this happens, it is a perfect time to re-evaluate. Ask yourself these simple questions in the process:

  • Are there still action items to discuss week after week?
  • Has the big project already launched, is there still a specific goal we’re trying to reach?
  • Have important members of the project dropped in attendance?

Don’t be shy to ask the project members that are still in attendance how they feel about continuing to hold meetings. This can be the quickest way to know if the meeting is still valuable and whether it holds the same meaning to everyone.

SOME OF OUR OWN HORROR STORIES

As a bunch of engineers that just wanted to build cool stuff, we used to begrudgingly accept a request for a weekly check-in from a client, and we’d never suggest it ourselves. Over the years we’ve had some pretty silly miscommunications that lead to us deciding weekly check-ins should be a standard part of our process on projects over a certain size and complexity.

We’ve had clients who were expecting work that wasn’t defined in the Statement of Work (SOW) because they just assumed it would be included. This happens all the time for smaller functionality choices, but never underestimate the difference people will have in their assumptions.

Once we had a project where there were a handful of creative services teams involved and it only became clear towards the end of the project that literally no one thought they were responsible for the final copy. Beautiful looking website, too bad it’s covered in Lorem Ipsum. Discovering that mid-project gave us a chance to find a fair and realistic solution for everyone. Without the weekly check-in meeting that wouldn’t have been discovered until the final testing weeks. Instead we were able to identify the confusion early on and find a solution that was workable for everyone. Using your SOW as cover isn’t going to build a lasting relationship.

We’ve made the mistake of just sending an email off to a client with a link to check out of your current stage. Nothing feels better to that engineer than saying “hey check out the new awesomeness” at midnight when they’ve just updated the stage.

Of course, the client can’t read your mind and likely has no idea what parts you consider done and what is still in progress. They may spend quite a lot of time testing functionality you know isn’t done. Sometimes we’ve had them start finalizing content that we were expecting to blow away later. Just waiting for that weekly check-in, and showing your demo in a screenshare where you can set some context, can literally save dozens of hours and lots of confusion for everyone.

RESULTS TO EXPECT

Expect the first few meetings to be longer than anticipated and awkward. Afterwards the meetings will settle down into being short comfortable highlights. Everyone will get the hang of the routine and the relationship.

You’ll feel more comfortable asking questions from clients and they’ll be relieved to see you predicting the right issues in your agenda.

Your clients will trust that their requests are being accomplished. Weekly check-in meetings help your projects run smoother and will make your clients love you even more than just great deliverables.

About the Author

Franz Maruna has been building with software since the 1990’s. He’s delivered clever solutions for all sorts of clients ranging from simple marketing sites to complex mission critical business applications. He currently leads PortlandLabs and the open source Concrete CMS.

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