Meeting minutes

Aurhored by Melissa Tullues 

I hate meeting minutes. You know – those notes that you scribble down during the meeting, trying to make sure that you capture the key points while also participating in the discussion, and then squeezing in time afterward to package them up into a legible doc, and send it off to everyone who probably won’t open them anyway. Those meeting minutes.

Good meeting minutes require discipline, not only to take them but to send them. And often, they just end up buried in someone’s inbox or on Confluence/SharePoint/etc. After all, most of the people who care were IN the meeting, heard everything that you heard, and seriously who wants to re-live a meeting again by reading the minutes? So why bother?

While 90% of the time they may not seem useful… there is that glorious 10% where they are gold. And so, I hate them, but I love meeting minutes even more.

Why meeting minutes are useful

One of the main factors of project failure is a lack of communication. While they’re tempting to ignore, those meeting minutes drive communication. They ensure that everyone is on the same page. People are reminded of their tasks, and those who
couldn’t attend can still be in the loop without a lengthy verbal debriefing.

Here are just a few of the scenarios where I’ve been grateful that I took the extra time to capture & send out meeting minutes:

  • A new person has joined the team and wants to understand the background reasoning behind a design decision. It’s all explained in the minutes from the architecture review!
  • A developer forgot what he committed to delivering this week. The meeting minutes contain the 3 goals that the developer needs to follow up on!
  • The key stakeholder swears he heard you commit to the extra feature. The minutes stated that you said the feature would be considered once you’ve done the analysis!
  • The product manager tends to forget her commitments. It’s gotten so bad that you need to involve management. So, rather than get into an, he said/she said situation, you merely reference the email with the attached minutes that contain the action items. Minutes save the day again!
  • And perhaps the most common… It’s Monday morning, and you haven’t had your coffee. Your boss corners you and asks for an update on the ongoing issue in an hour. Good thing you have the meeting minutes from the last discussion!

The mind of a Project Manager (especially one that works for a software consultancy) is like a circus performer spinning plates. They get one plate set up and spinning, and then before it makes it up to full speed, they’re on to the next plate, and the next plate, and the next plate, until there’s a bevy of spinning plates whirling about. They can’t just stand back and enjoy their handy work because that first plate starts to wobble… so they have to go back and stabilize it to ensure it keeps spinning. By the time that plate is going again, there are three other plates starting to wobble. Oh, and don’t forget to add another spinning plate to the mix!

That’s what it feels like when I’m deep in a project; so many tasks going on, that it seems impossible to add yet one more thing. When I get to that point, one of the first things I’m tempted to drop is meeting minutes. But then I remember all the times it’s been invaluable to have them, and minutes move up toward the top of my priority list.

Tips for taking quality meeting minutes

So, now that I’ve convinced you why meeting minutes are important, here are a few tips to help you love them too!

  • If you can do it without distracting others, make an audio recording of the meeting. You never know when you forgot to document something critical because you were distracted by the conversation.
  • If you have a hard time writing notes while actively participating in the conversation, ask someone with a smaller role in the meeting to capture the discussion.
  • Capture critical points – major debates including who had what opinion, final decisions/outcomes, action items, and who attended the meeting. If it’s distracting to figure out what’s important during the meeting, just write down as much as you
    can, and filter it out later.
  • When typing action items, prefix with “AI:” for “Action Item” – later, you can quickly search your doc for this, and easily put together a summary of tasks to follow up on. Also, note who the AI is assigned to.
  • If you can do it quickly, write your meeting minutes in a way that you can share with minimal editing because otherwise, you’ll be hard pressed to find the time to do the extra updates.
  • If it wasn’t discussed in the meeting, don’t write it in the minutes! Keep those items as an additional note in the email.
  • Don’t bother writing down the bullet points from a presentation if you can distribute the slides with the minutes.
  • Include the subject/topic of the meeting in the title of the minutes, as well as the date, to help you find them better. Storing them on a space like Confluence makes it easier to search through them to find the relevant notes.
  • When distributing the meeting minutes make sure to highlight, in the body of the email, any critical tasks/decisions. It encourages people to reference the minutes for the more detailed information, and serves as a good emphasis of the meeting

The bottom line – take the time to document your discussions, and then follow up by socializing it to the attendees. Even when it seems like you’re so busy that you can’t tackle such a seemingly minor task as recording meeting minutes, remember the more spinning plates you have, the more you have to pay attention to the details.

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