The following guidelines will show you how to compose well-written and concise minutes.
Why are minutes actually necessary?
Minutes constitute a document that primarily captures decisions and points that are discussed during a conference or meeting. Minutes should not sound like a script. It is not necessary to write down every interjection and observation as it is ultimately not necessary to note down all seven suggestions that were discussed for hours on end. It is the actual solution that everyone finally decides upon that ultimately matters.
It is important in the minutes to focus on what is being voted on, what was decided, which measures were agreed and who is going to carry out which tasks. This ensures that whoever refers to the minutes after the meeting and sees his names or initials next to a point will be reminded that he has a task that he needs to complete.
It can obviously often be the case that minutes do not get read and, as the project manager, it is important to ensure that the people responsible carry out their tasks as agreed. Written notes that are issued to all meeting participants can be very useful after a number of weeks and months even if they only serve as proof that a topic has already been discussed, a decision has been reached and adhered to or a completion date has been accepted by everyone. Minutes can often be used to serve as a reminder, for example, if the customer needs another explanation as to why he did not favour one or another solution three months ago. In many cases, the minutes provide meeting participants with a to-do list.
How to Approach Minute Writing
Before the very first session, it is useful to ask the customer or project manager what his or her requirements and expectations of the minutes are. Most project management offices work with a set model which forms the basis of all the minutes that are taken.
It is therefore not necessary to establish a particular structure. If there is no model available, it is necessary to select a way to logically break down the topics which is obviously dependent on the type of project.
The first page should obviously include the date of the meeting, the name of the project and the names of those attending the meeting (including contact details and their roles in the project). It is also useful at this point to refer to future dates and to make a few general comments, if necessary. The minute taker has a certain amount of freedom in terms of the format of the text. The use of bullet points is a useful, tried and tested technique. It is a better way to structure the text as it makes it easier for the reader to find a relevant section (and ultimately increases the chance that something will actually be read). It is extremely important to note that the minutes need to be issued to everyone who has attended the meeting and to individuals who are listed on the first page who are involved in the project, but are unable to attend the meeting for one reason or another. This applies to those who were possibly not invited and only want to be informed of the outcome of the meeting.
Important Points to Include in the Minutes
When you are taking the minutes, it is obviously necessary to concentrate hard on listening for the whole time. All points are important to the minute taker, not just parts of them, which means it is necessary to filter out the essential points. It is better to note down one sentence too many and simply strike it out later than to forget something that could be important. The final version should then only include the important points.
The minute taker does not need to spend too much time thinking about eloquent wording. It is important to aim to make the text as simple and unambiguous as possible. This is not about writing elegant prose. At the beginning of the meeting, the project manager should ask whether there are any comments relating to the previous minutes and to record these comments, if necessary. If no comments are offered, it is assumed that the previous minutes have been accepted by everyone which can be an important point at a later date.
A Few Tips
The goal in project management is to communicate information to everyone involved in the project in a simple and comprehensible style. Every set of minutes should serve this purpose. They should therefore be written in such a way that anyone who is not directly involved in the project should be able to understand what has been discussed during the meeting. If something is unclear, it is absolutely necessary to seek further clarification. If a technician is explaining which type of motorised lock with a magnetised contact he would suggest and why he is doing so, the minute taker is entitled to ask him to spell out the product name.
No project manager is expected to know all the technical details. Any decisions that are reached must be correctly stated in the minutes. It can be useful to mark any points that just serve as information, but which do not outline any tasks or decisions, with the label ‘for information.’ Judgemental comments do not belong in the minutes. Everything should be worded as factually as possible.
Another tip: Try to compose the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting (within 1 to 2 days) because it will be easier to recall what has been said as it will still be fresh in your memory.
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