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Expense of Meetings

I just came from a monthly meeting, scheduled to last 2.5 hours.  I counted 40 people in the room, ranging from administrative assistants to top executives.  I wanted to do an unscientific estimate of the cost of the meeting.  I used Meetordie (meet or die) to arrive at my total.  (Thank you to Deanne Earle of Unlike Before for telling me of the site) I plugged in a few simple values and… the meeting had an estimated cost of $17,904.  The information provided by the vendor, from my perspective, was not worth nearly $18,000.  Please realize this is a required monthly meeting.

The slide deck was distributed to everyone on the project via email, allowing them to review the materials at their leisure.  They do need to be kept informed.  But, instead of going about their day, many who received the slide deck came to the meeting.  We all sat in a room as the vendor read from the slides.  Now, this was no Steve Jobs keynote address.  The vendor pretty much read word-for-word off the slides.

Just because the vendor may be contractually obligated to have this meeting, they should propose an alternative to what they’re doing.  There either needs to be more value or less cost associated with this meeting.

Thoughts or comments?

Graphic: Pictofigo

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

30 Responses to “Expense of Meetings”

  1. August 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Derek:

    Great post! Meetings really should be a great tool for the team to collaborate, make decisions, etc. They have turned into an extension of one’s office (so many folks working on laptops and not paying attention) or story time (someone simply reading a ppt deck).

    Had there been value to the meeting ($18k is still up for debate) then it would be easier to swallow that number. I posted a few months back on meetings and had this calculator in their also…http://bit.ly/axPxmt

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      Robert, I agree with you that some meeting can be great for team collaboration. But, this was a status meeting. We were being informed. In my opinion, it was unnecessary. Because this is a “deliverable” in the contract, the vendor is more than happy to have the meeting. They claim earned value, just by having it. Unfortunately, I think my client got the short end of the “value” stick.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      By the way, you wrote a great post! http://bit.ly/axPxmt

  2. August 26, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Derek:

    Great post! Meetings really should be a great tool for the team to collaborate, make decisions, etc. They have turned into an extension of one’s office (so many folks working on laptops and not paying attention) or story time (someone simply reading a ppt deck).

    Had there been value to the meeting ($18k is still up for debate) then it would be easier to swallow that number. I posted a few months back on meetings and had this calculator in their also…http://bit.ly/axPxmt

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 11:07 am

      Robert, I agree with you that some meeting can be great for team collaboration. But, this was a status meeting. We were being informed. In my opinion, it was unnecessary. Because this is a “deliverable” in the contract, the vendor is more than happy to have the meeting. They claim earned value, just by having it. Unfortunately, I think my client got the short end of the “value” stick.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 11:09 am

      By the way, you wrote a great post! http://bit.ly/axPxmt

  3. Jeff Clark
    August 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    True, many meetings are a waste of time and not worth the cost of the participants time. It’s hard to imagine any meeting of a large group of people to be cost effective from a straight adding up of the attendees hourly rates. I’m not saying this is the case in the subject meeting, but there are intangible benefits of meetings, most notably getting people to work better together, simply because they met or had sidebar discussions with people then rarely see. The trick is to keep them to a bare minimum.
    In one past role we had monthly meetings among executives from across IT. No way to justify the highest paid people from an hourly rate perspective, but we always got to meet the new person, or knew you would see certain people and could get their attention.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm

      Jeff, thank you for your comment. I do see a lot of value in small, short, one-on-one meetings when time is critical and distributed communications will be the bottle-neck. I also like small one-on-one meetings because I can read body language. If anything unscripted would have happened at the meeting, it would have increased the perceived value. Those interactions were limited to a handful of us challenging the vendor on some of their facts. I just looked at the packet they handed us on the way in. Each were 133 pages thick. So, in addition to lost hours, include the cost of printing all of those packets.

  4. Jeff Clark
    August 26, 2010 at 10:43 am

    True, many meetings are a waste of time and not worth the cost of the participants time. It’s hard to imagine any meeting of a large group of people to be cost effective from a straight adding up of the attendees hourly rates. I’m not saying this is the case in the subject meeting, but there are intangible benefits of meetings, most notably getting people to work better together, simply because they met or had sidebar discussions with people then rarely see. The trick is to keep them to a bare minimum.
    In one past role we had monthly meetings among executives from across IT. No way to justify the highest paid people from an hourly rate perspective, but we always got to meet the new person, or knew you would see certain people and could get their attention.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 11:17 am

      Jeff, thank you for your comment. I do see a lot of value in small, short, one-on-one meetings when time is critical and distributed communications will be the bottle-neck. I also like small one-on-one meetings because I can read body language. If anything unscripted would have happened at the meeting, it would have increased the perceived value. Those interactions were limited to a handful of us challenging the vendor on some of their facts. I just looked at the packet they handed us on the way in. Each were 133 pages thick. So, in addition to lost hours, include the cost of printing all of those packets.

  5. August 26, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    An interesting figure! Even if the outcome was half that amount, it is still an expensive meeting.

    What concerns me is that this meeting is a regular occurrence (and as you say the vendor hasn’t been imaginative enough in their approach), but also it appears to be a very one-way affair, with your team purely being updated, there appears to be no two-way communication going on.

    I think it is time for a sit down with the vendor to discuss and agree a new approach and format, not only to save costs and time, but also to be of more use.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 6:03 pm

      Ed, I won’t argue with you. The vendor isn’t thinking proactively in the best interest of the customer. They should always be thinking of ways to either cut costs or increase value deliver. You are correct in your observation. This is nothing more than a status meeting. There are a handful of us who do challenge the vendor on some of the slides. Then again, that’s my job. I’m there to represent the customer’s interests.

  6. August 26, 2010 at 10:54 am

    An interesting figure! Even if the outcome was half that amount, it is still an expensive meeting.

    What concerns me is that this meeting is a regular occurrence (and as you say the vendor hasn’t been imaginative enough in their approach), but also it appears to be a very one-way affair, with your team purely being updated, there appears to be no two-way communication going on.

    I think it is time for a sit down with the vendor to discuss and agree a new approach and format, not only to save costs and time, but also to be of more use.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 11:03 am

      Ed, I won’t argue with you. The vendor isn’t thinking proactively in the best interest of the customer. They should always be thinking of ways to either cut costs or increase value deliver. You are correct in your observation. This is nothing more than a status meeting. There are a handful of us who do challenge the vendor on some of the slides. Then again, that’s my job. I’m there to represent the customer’s interests.

  7. August 26, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Ed makes a good point – is it possible this humongous amount is wrong? But that doesn’t even matter. There were FORTY people in that room! That’s crazy, Derek.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      Laura, as outlandish as it sounds, I think the estimate is pretty close. Though I used the website listed in the post to calculate the amount, I went back and did some simple math. There were 5 senior executives, a several directors, several senior managers, rows of engineers, and 4 executive assistants. This was a small crowd. We were only in one lecture room when we usual occupy two for this meeting. Since some people are out for vacation, it’s understandable.

      Though I don’t want to offend anyone, let’s use this number to put it into perspective. 40 people x $100 per hour x 2.5 hours = $10,000. At a blended rate, an engineer could easily be billable at $150 hourly. See how it can get out of control quickly? Yes, it’s crazy and one might say offensive. I will be making a formal proposal to the program to cut back the attendance of the meeting and propose a communication strategy that will more align with our needs.

  8. August 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Ed makes a good point – is it possible this humongous amount is wrong? But that doesn’t even matter. There were FORTY people in that room! That’s crazy, Derek.

    • Derek Huether
      August 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm

      Laura, as outlandish as it sounds, I think the estimate is pretty close. Though I used the website listed in the post to calculate the amount, I went back and did some simple math. There were 5 senior executives, a several directors, several senior managers, rows of engineers, and 4 executive assistants. This was a small crowd. We were only in one lecture room when we usual occupy two for this meeting. Since some people are out for vacation, it’s understandable.

      Though I don’t want to offend anyone, let’s use this number to put it into perspective. 40 people x $100 per hour x 2.5 hours = $10,000. At a blended rate, an engineer could easily be billable at $150 hourly. See how it can get out of control quickly? Yes, it’s crazy and one might say offensive. I will be making a formal proposal to the program to cut back the attendance of the meeting and propose a communication strategy that will more align with our needs.

  9. August 27, 2010 at 7:27 am

    You’re absolutely right Derek – even if the number is slightly off your simple calculation proves the point of excessive indirect cost. Unfortunately this type of waste is not solely limited to meetings. I wrote a post a while ago that looked at the time and cost of indecision (http://unlikebefore.blogspot.com/2010/03/when-urgent-isnt-urgent-at-all.html) using the exact same simple formula.

    You made a couple of other interesting points… 1 – that the vendor may be contractually obliged to have this meeting, and 2 – even though people received the slide deck they came anyway! Both sides need questioning on these behaviours so I’m glad to read you’re proactively proposing some changes in order to address both of these. I’m pretty sure you’ll be including the estimated $17,904 as supporting evidence :)

    • Derek Huether
      August 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

      Deanne, I read your post. I’ve been there as well. Defining urgent with the stakeholder is like asking if something is a need or a want. You get interesting responses, depending on whom you ask. In respect to my meeting, even if the numbers were way off, I still find the meeting size problematic. This vendor is contractually obligated to have “a” monthly status meeting. They are not required to invite a small army and neither is my client. I think there is such a communication issue, both sides may be overcompensating. Regardless, there has to be a better way. We ran into this same problem at the bi-weekly program management communications meeting. There were way too many people attending. The meeting is now restricted to the top managers and executives from both sides, and myself. I absolutely loath meetings, particularly ones that I have to travel to, if I think I can get the same value from reviewing the agenda and associated materials at my leisure. I will write a followup post when I have a response to my report.

  10. August 27, 2010 at 12:27 am

    You’re absolutely right Derek – even if the number is slightly off your simple calculation proves the point of excessive indirect cost. Unfortunately this type of waste is not solely limited to meetings. I wrote a post a while ago that looked at the time and cost of indecision (http://unlikebefore.blogspot.com/2010/03/when-urgent-isnt-urgent-at-all.html) using the exact same simple formula.

    You made a couple of other interesting points… 1 – that the vendor may be contractually obliged to have this meeting, and 2 – even though people received the slide deck they came anyway! Both sides need questioning on these behaviours so I’m glad to read you’re proactively proposing some changes in order to address both of these. I’m pretty sure you’ll be including the estimated $17,904 as supporting evidence :)

    • Derek Huether
      August 27, 2010 at 4:31 am

      Deanne, I read your post. I’ve been there as well. Defining urgent with the stakeholder is like asking if something is a need or a want. You get interesting responses, depending on whom you ask. In respect to my meeting, even if the numbers were way off, I still find the meeting size problematic. This vendor is contractually obligated to have “a” monthly status meeting. They are not required to invite a small army and neither is my client. I think there is such a communication issue, both sides may be overcompensating. Regardless, there has to be a better way. We ran into this same problem at the bi-weekly program management communications meeting. There were way too many people attending. The meeting is now restricted to the top managers and executives from both sides, and myself. I absolutely loath meetings, particularly ones that I have to travel to, if I think I can get the same value from reviewing the agenda and associated materials at my leisure. I will write a followup post when I have a response to my report.

  11. August 31, 2010 at 7:16 am

    There has been research published recently (Sorry can’t remember where) saying that students learn better when they get the lecture slides/notes in advance as well.

    So even if you ARE going to show you’d be better served getting the notes in advance.

    • Derek Huether
      August 31, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks Craig!
      Yes, we do get the slide deck in advance, which allows those who want to ask questions at the meeting to ask them. Since the vendor reads the slides verbatim during the meeting, I see the opportunity for current attendees to read them at their desks when they have downtime, rather than stopping their day for 3 hours.

  12. August 31, 2010 at 12:16 am

    There has been research published recently (Sorry can’t remember where) saying that students learn better when they get the lecture slides/notes in advance as well.

    So even if you ARE going to show you’d be better served getting the notes in advance.

    • Derek Huether
      August 31, 2010 at 6:16 am

      Thanks Craig!
      Yes, we do get the slide deck in advance, which allows those who want to ask questions at the meeting to ask them. Since the vendor reads the slides verbatim during the meeting, I see the opportunity for current attendees to read them at their desks when they have downtime, rather than stopping their day for 3 hours.

  13. August 31, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Another great, thought-provoking post Derek.

    To play a bit of devil’s advocate here, while it can be a useful exercise (and make for an excellent blog topic!), estimating the cost of a meeting is only looking at one half of the equation, and to some extent, the simpler one. The other half, as has also been alluded to in some of the comments, is the benefit derived therefrom, which is much harder to attach a number to, especially if just taken within the context of the meeting time. However, what if as a result of someone attending the meeting and hearing the update from the vendor, that person notices an error that would have cost $25k if gone undetected for a longer period? Some people can read something and pick up on issues, but others are better tuned to hearing things. Of course, that means that those attending the meeting should be paying attention, and not on their laptops or iPhones etc. That is a big petpeeve of mine…..

    Given what you describe, I’m guessing that this is a very large and long term project, with probably the budget to match. Assuming then that the % of the budget allocated to these update meetings is fairly small, means we might be plucking gray hairs from a receding hairline, ie perhaps focused on the wrong issues.

    The drole thing in all this, is that no one I talk to likes meetings and most believe they are a total waste of time. Yet, it seems we are finding more ways to meet, even online.

    • Derek Huether
      August 31, 2010 at 6:43 pm

      Bob, you make very valid points. This vendor is required to provide the slide decks prior to the meetings. We usually catch the issues at the weekly status meetings. That’s really when we can make tactical recommendations. The monthly status meeting is more of a dog-and-pony show. Personally, I want to be in the room with these people. I want to read their body language and I want to make direct eye contact while they are giving their presentations. I can’t get what I want from a conference call. I get what I need from the slide deck. I get what I want from the meeting.

      Yes, the program is very large and is in its 5th year. These meetings identified in the schedule. On the grand scale, I might be making a mountain out of a mole hill. Still, my job is to advise the client where I see opportunities for improvements.

  14. August 31, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Another great, thought-provoking post Derek.

    To play a bit of devil’s advocate here, while it can be a useful exercise (and make for an excellent blog topic!), estimating the cost of a meeting is only looking at one half of the equation, and to some extent, the simpler one. The other half, as has also been alluded to in some of the comments, is the benefit derived therefrom, which is much harder to attach a number to, especially if just taken within the context of the meeting time. However, what if as a result of someone attending the meeting and hearing the update from the vendor, that person notices an error that would have cost $25k if gone undetected for a longer period? Some people can read something and pick up on issues, but others are better tuned to hearing things. Of course, that means that those attending the meeting should be paying attention, and not on their laptops or iPhones etc. That is a big petpeeve of mine…..

    Given what you describe, I’m guessing that this is a very large and long term project, with probably the budget to match. Assuming then that the % of the budget allocated to these update meetings is fairly small, means we might be plucking gray hairs from a receding hairline, ie perhaps focused on the wrong issues.

    The drole thing in all this, is that no one I talk to likes meetings and most believe they are a total waste of time. Yet, it seems we are finding more ways to meet, even online.

    • Derek Huether
      August 31, 2010 at 11:43 am

      Bob, you make very valid points. This vendor is required to provide the slide decks prior to the meetings. We usually catch the issues at the weekly status meetings. That’s really when we can make tactical recommendations. The monthly status meeting is more of a dog-and-pony show. Personally, I want to be in the room with these people. I want to read their body language and I want to make direct eye contact while they are giving their presentations. I can’t get what I want from a conference call. I get what I need from the slide deck. I get what I want from the meeting.

      Yes, the program is very large and is in its 5th year. These meetings identified in the schedule. On the grand scale, I might be making a mountain out of a mole hill. Still, my job is to advise the client where I see opportunities for improvements.

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