July 12, 2016
In business, projects are the building blocks of strategic advantage. And when it comes to projects, the most important goal is to complete them successfully – on time, within budget and with all the promises that were made.
We all know that project plans are key to a successful execution. However, there is another discipline that is less emphasized, but just as important.
Meeting notes are pivotal to project management and execution. Having been on a large variety of client projects, I find meeting notes to be one of my best tools for keeping projects moving smoothly and successfully.
We all know that a note is defined as, “a brief record of facts, topics, or thoughts, written down as an aid to memory.” But how often do we accurately translate these into action items or reference them throughout a project lifecycle? Maybe not as often as we would like or intend to.
Meeting notes not only capture important information but also hold participants accountable for the tasks that have been assigned to them. These notes then serve as a guide of ownership as to who will be performing which task, at what time in the project span, what the projected outcome will be, etc.
Not being prepared for meetings or jotting down important notes will ultimately lead to 1) not having a point of reference or clear strategy, 2) reiterating tasks/items 3) possibly relaying misinformation, 4) interrupting the project timeline due to inefficiency, and 5) increased costs, time and effort to re-arrange meetings.
To help avoid these inefficiencies throughout the duration of a project, here are some key “note taking” points to consider:
The overall quality and effectiveness of your notes depends on how well you are organized. Here are a few must-have organizational components to prepare you prior to the start of any meeting:
– Writing tool/notebook or laptop. These obvious must-haves should be first on your list and you should always have backup in case you run out of writing room or if there is a technology error. Deciding which works best for you will also depend on the pace of the meeting.
A couple tools that are great to have (but not necessary) to help better organize the content of your notes are:
- Mind maps. A mind map can visually help organize thoughts, objectives and action items – covering all key topics. It allows you to take notes in a visually structured way. (http://www.xmind.net/)
- Recording tools. Many conference meeting services have a “recording feature” which can help verify any details that you may have missed.
– Note template. Always have a template for your notes prepared. The template should include basic information, such as:
Subject of meeting, date, time, purpose, objectives, action items, list of participants and additional recipients who are to receive a copy of your notes with the correct contact info for each. There should be ample room left over on the template for your notes.
– Agenda. Having an agenda in preparation of the meeting will help you to familiarize yourself with the topics that will be discussed, in addition to organizing and prioritizing the structure of your template.
2) Capturing important details
Although it is sometimes better to obtain too much information than not enough, it’s most crucial to only relay the essential information, therefore eliminating any irrelevant jargon from what you have written down (i.e. opinions, ideas). Your notes to participants and other recipients should be brief, yet precise, indicating:
– Action Items (List who is assigned to each task – make sure to capture these as the meeting progresses to avoid missing any assignment)
– Summary (Reiterate goals, objectives and list all decisions that were made)
– Next Steps (Next meeting, follow-up times, etc.)
Prior to distributing these notes, it is a good idea to take a look over what you have compiled to make sure it all makes sense and that each key task aligns with the agenda, objectives, and decisions that were made. Eliminate all spelling errors and if necessary, have a team member proofread the meeting notes before they are sent out. Also, it’s wise to compare your notes with a team members’ to ensure you haven’t missed any important details.
3) Distributing meeting notes
Properly distributing your meeting notes to each participant is vital to ensure each individual is on the right track, same page, and accountable for their tasks. Once again, as part of organizing your notes, make sure all meeting participant and other recipient contact information is completely accurate.
4) Next steps
In between each meeting you should continuously reference your notes. This will ensure mindfulness of each task assigned to you and other participants and track whether or not each has been performed. Cross referencing notes to the overall Project Plan may be beneficial since some of the decisions that come out of the meeting could potentially affect the whole Project Plan. Keeping each set of notes on file will help prepare for future meetings and will also serve as a reference guide for the project itself.
Unfortunately, human memory is fallible but considering these “note taking” points for your future projects can ensure a much smoother, more successful execution.
The Shelby Group