How to write professional minutes

Writing meeting minutes is part of the daily routine in project management. Whether you are enthusiastic or reluctant about this task, every project manager knows that minutes and documentation play a very important role in project management and that meetings without written minutes are basically worthless. Many project members are not big fans of taking minutes, so this task should be done as quickly and effectively as possible. Here is a guide to writing good, concise minutes.
A person writes something in a book.


Why actually write minutes?

Minutes are a document that primarily records decisions and points discussed in a meeting. It should not read like a script. Not all comments and suggestions are written down, because at the end of the day it is not the proposals that have been discussed for hours that are important, but the solution that everyone has chosen and found to be good.
It is important to record what has been voted on, what actions have been taken, and who is responsible for what. This also ensures that if someone looks at the minutes after the meeting and sees their name or abbreviation after an item, they will be reminded that they still have something to do and what that task is.
Of course, there will still be times when the minutes are not read, and it is up to you as the project manager to make sure that the people responsible do what was agreed. But the written minutes, sent to everyone involved, can be very useful weeks or months later, if only as proof that an issue has already been discussed, a decision has been made and recorded, and a completion date has been accepted by everyone. Minutes can also often be used as a reminder, for example when a client needs to be reminded why they chose this solution over another three months ago. A record can also be used as a to-do list for those involved.

Procedure for writing minutes

Prior to the first meeting, it is useful to ask the client or project manager about their requirements and expectations for the minutes. Most project management offices have a fixed template to which all minutes are written. It is therefore not necessary to create a structure. If there is no template, a logical division of topics should be chosen, depending of course on the nature of the project. As the project manager or minute-taker, you may wish to consider whether it would be useful to introduce a standard template for minutes, so that other projects can benefit from it as well.
The first page should list the date of the meeting, the name of the project and the people present (with contact details and role in the project). It is also useful to mention the next meeting dates and to make some general remarks if necessary. The minute-taker has a certain amount of freedom as to the form of the text. However, it has proved useful to work with indents, as this structures the text better and makes it easier for readers to read only the part that is relevant to them (which ultimately increases the chance that anything will be read at all). Very important: the minutes must be distributed to all those who attended the meeting, as well as to all those who are involved in the project but who, for various reasons, did not attend the meeting, perhaps were not even invited, and just want to be informed.

Important points in any minutes

As a minute-taker, you must of course listen very carefully at all times. For the minute-taker, all the points are important, not just parts of them. The point is to filter out the essentials. It is better to write down one sentence too many and delete it later than to forget something that might be important. The final version should contain only the essentials.
The minute-taker does not need to worry too much about the wording. The rule is: keep it as simple and clear as possible. It is not about prose. At the beginning of each meeting, the project manager should ask if there are any comments on the previous minutes and record them if necessary. Otherwise, the points in the previous minutes are assumed to have been accepted by all, which can be important in retrospect.

A few tips in conclusion

The aim of project management is to communicate all the necessary information to all participants in a simple and understandable style. This is also the purpose of minutes. Therefore, they should be written in such a way that someone who is not involved in the project can understand what was discussed in the meeting. If something is unclear, it is important to ask. For example, if the engineer explains what type of magnetic contact motorised lock he is proposing and why, the minute-taker can ask him to spell out the product name.
No project manager needs to know all the technical details. But he must be able to find the right decisions in the minutes. In the case of items that are for information only and do not formulate a task or decision, a note "for information" may be useful. Judgmental comments do not belong in the minutes. Everything has to be objective. 
Another tip: Take the minutes as soon as possible, preferably immediately after the meeting or within a day or two at the latest and send them out straight away. This makes it easier to write the minutes because what was said is still present. Also, people involved in the project can get to work with a mandate for action as soon as the minutes are available, rather than having to wait a long time.

Writing professional minutes - The IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Protocol, Documentation

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