I always wonder why some meetings still insist on recording minutes. Does anyone ever actually read them? If they do what on earth do they get out of them? I have never understood why it is important to record what people say. The person who has to sit in meetings for hours on end writing down everything everyone says must be so bored. Also given nobody reads them pretty pointless too.
I am told the benefit of taking minutes is for people who did not attend the meeting! But I don’t get it. If someone has not attended the meeting are they expected to go through pages and pages of minutes? Is it not far better to have a list of actions and decisions as this will tell the person everything they need to know.
In this article, I will show you a powerful alternative to meeting minutes. I use this approach with my meetings and have had great success with it. In the first part of the article, I will cover how to capture and record meeting actions. I also include how to make your own meeting template and what headings to use. After covering actions I will show you the two other things I capture. Meeting decisions and concerns. I take each of these, in turn, breaking down what headings I have in my template.
I have found that if a meeting is a discussion based then the output is minutes. These meetings are long winded and waste a lot of time. Meetings should be decision-based and have actions recorded. Decision-based meetings are shorter and result in stuff getting done. With meetings decision based there is a very little discussion. As there is not much discussion there is no need to record minutes.
So now we have established that there is no need to record minutes how do you record actions and decisions? One way is to note them in a document and send this to all people who have attended the meeting. This approach can work but there is one major flaw with this. If an action is not resolved by the time of the next meeting it can often get forgotten about. This because people only review actions from the last meeting.
There is a way to remember old actions and that is to have a rolling action log. This method of recording ensures that actions get done faster. People will do their actions when they know that they will need to give an update at every meeting.
An action log is easy to set up. I use a spreadsheet to record all the actions from my meetings. You can use anything that enables to record information in a table.
What to Include in Your Action Log
Unique ID – This is a unique number for each action. For example A1. This makes it easy to refer to other actions in both the comments and the dependencies.
Action Description – Describe the action making sure it is SMART. S – specific, M – measurable, A – achievable, R – realistic and T – timely. The action should be clear and easy to understand by anyone that was not at the meeting.
Assign to – Who handles completing the action. Make sure you only put one person down here. With more than one person per action there is a risk that they will not do anything and blame each other for not doing it. If two or more people need to work on an action then make one person responsible and assign the action to them. Also make sure you only assign actions to people who actually attended the meeting. It is rude to assign actions to people that are not present. Also you want to gain commitment from the person that they agree to complete the action by the due date.
Date Assigned – This is the date of the meeting where the action was first assigned to someone.
Due Date – This is the date that the assigned person agrees to complete the action by. When assigning an action try not to force a date on them. It is far better to get them to suggest a date for the action completion as it is more likely they will do it by that date.
Status – This is a simple open or closed so at a quick glance you know if the action still needs looking at. I also colour code these as red for open and green for closed. This makes it easier when looking through the log to identify those that need resolving.
Dependencies – Some actions will need other actions resolved first. If so place the action unique ID here and a brief description of why it is a dependency. You can also insert dependencies that are external to the meeting. For example if you are waiting for the completion of something first then explain what it is here.
Notes – It is a good idea to have a notes section as it gives you a place to provide further information if needed. It is also a good place to put action progress updates. For example if the person you need to speak to is on holiday you can state when the person is due back.
This is the six things that I have in my action log which helps ensure no actions get forgotten. But there are two other things that I keep with my action log which helps my meetings. These are decisions and concerns. As I use a spreadsheet as my action log I have these on two other tabs.
The first tab is decisions. In my decision log I record the following:
Unique ID – Same as the unique ID with the action log this enables quick reference back to the right decision. For example D1. You can also use these when referencing decisions on the action log.
Decision Description – A brief description of the decision. Make sure it is clear what the decision is. You do not want someone to misinterpret the decision.
Date Made – Record the date of the decision. This helps provide a reference point later on if needed.
Made by Who – Make a note of who made the decision. If it is more than one person note down each person who agreed with the decision. As a project manager this is very useful if you are ever questioned on who made what decision. This tends to happen when auditors examine projects.
The second tab I have records concerns. This is useful if someone expresses concerns in the meeting about the project. For example someone might say that there is a risk another project may take resources. This is a concern rather than an action. The difference with the concern is it needs mitigating. In our example we may want to take action to speed up the project to secure resources. It is possible that a lot of these concerns go into your risk log. The reason for having here is it is a great way to get people to contribute risks and feel listened to.
There are three things to capture with a concern; they are as follows:
Unique ID – Same as the unique ID with the action log this enables quick reference back to the concern. For example C1. You can also use these when referencing concerns on the action log.
The Concern – Describe with clarity what the concern is.
Mitigation – What is the proposed action to ease the concern. This is a lot like how to mitigate a risk.
Status – This is like the status of the action log with open and closed. Like the action log status I colour code with red and green. At a quick glace it is clear which concerns still need addressing.
It is important to have meetings that are not discussion heavy with big long meeting minutes. Instead good project meetings are decision focused and required the capture of actions. Alongside capturing actions it is a good idea to record decisions. This is particularly useful when your project is in audit process. It is also useful to capture concerns and their mitigating action. This is a good way of getting people to contribute on possible project risks and feel listened to.
The eight things to have on your action log are:
- Unique ID
- Action Description
- Assigned To
- Date Assigned
- Due Date
The four things to have on your decision log are:
- Unique ID
- Decision Description
- Date Made
- Made by Who
The four things to have on your concerns log are:
- Unique ID
- The Concern
This is how I record the actions on my project. It is quick and provides clarity on who handles what and who made what decision. Please feel free to copy this approach in your next project meeting and see how it works.
If you would like more information on projects and meetings, enter your email address. I will also send you some great templates that you can use on your project.