A project manager must have a variety of skills that allows him/her to obtain and identify as much information as possible in order to take the necessary actions at the right time to manage projects and mitigate most of the risks. One of those skills is to discern between priority and non-priority information and another one is to communicate this information to the people who need this key information. One way to use those skills and make both tangible and useful is to take notes.

Taking proper notes during a meeting can be the key difference between wasting time and obtaining important information for future stages of the project. Also, a written record of the meeting can be especially useful for people who were not able to attend, as they get to stay up to date with the kinds of things or agreements that came up in conversation.

However simple or short it may seem, there is a lot of information conveyed on a meeting. How to know which of these topics or points are or will be of vital importance? The simple answer is, we don't. However, to reduce the learning curve on how to identify relevant information of a meeting and improve your chances of becoming a better project manager, you can follow the following tips that have been useful for us and some of our partners. Use them wisely and with criteria:

Let everyone know the meeting agenda

It is important that when someone arrives at a meeting, they know in advance the topics that will be discussed, either to have the information at hand or to know if their attendance at the meeting is really a priority. To make this possible, it is important that the list of topics is shared with the attendees beforehand. This list can be used to avoid digression and make it a brief and concise call as well.

Write your notes while you still remember stuff

The perfect time to write the notes is obviously during the meeting, however, it’s not always possible ,since we have to pay attention to the discussion itself; so take note of some hints to remember the main topics and write them down in detail after the call (the sooner the better). When possible, get someone else to take notes also, and then compare your version with their version to produce the final meeting notes.

Gaining a deep understanding the problems that customers face is how you build products that provide value and grow. It all starts with a conversation. You have to let go of your assumptions so you can listen with an open mind and understand what’s actually important to them. That way you can build something that makes their life better. Something they actually want to buy.
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Start with an action review

It’s important to keep track of what has been done before the meeting, so at the beginning of the meeting use a couple of minutes to review the actions from the last meeting or the status of dependencies for the topics of what you are going to discuss to let everyone know where are the things currently stand.
Write down all the actions from the last meeting and a summary of the progress made on them.
If the action was completed, don’t bother to write it out again. Instead, add a line at the top of the action section that says all other actions were completed or are no longer relevant.

Record who was there

Remember that these notes, in addition to being for you and keeping a record of actions, are also useful for other attendees and for people who didn’t attend. Knowing who was in the meetings can help identify in the next stages, who has context on certain issues. So do a roll call.

Write down every and all dates

If there is something that is undoubtedly important, it is the dates. Each date mentioned is important to everyone present. However, there is more in them than meets the eye. The reason is that it can mean something different to everyone present and it is extremely important to understand that. Some questions that may help you are:

  • Is it a fixed date? What happens if that date is not respected?
  • What, who, and how does each attendee influence our ability to reach this date?
  • What must be delivered and how should it be delivered on that date?
  • And the last but most important, is this date realistic?

These points must be discussed, negotiated and the common agreement established and written down.

Document actions and owners

The purpose of the meeting is not a coffee talk but to reach an agreement. To be able to specify the actions in a project, we must assign certain tasks and those responsible for following up on them. That assignment must be described in the notes, to be able to follow up at the next meeting.

Home School, quarantine :(
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Use a template

Using a standard template saves you time. Your partners and clients will get used to reading the minutes in that format, especially if the meeting is held regularly.

You can ask your Growth and Innovation department for one if your company has it. If not, there are plenty of templates available online. Use the one that fits your needs.

Document decisions

Use your minutes to confirm the decisions that were taken in the meeting. ie, make a note of any project change requests that were approved or rejected.

If the group decided anything, write it down! This is a good way to “help” people remember when, in a few months, they ask you why something is being done. You can refer back to the discussion.

Send the notes

Time matters!

Ideally, you should send out minutes within the following days. Sooner is better. And they should definitely be circulated before the next meeting!

Send them to people who weren’t able to attend as well, so they can see what they missed.

You may also have people who want to be copied in but who weren’t on the attendee list, for example, your line manager.

Final notes

It’s OK not to have minutes for informal meetings, but most meetings will benefit from having a written record, even if this is just a quick email sent to attendees after the event.

At least, take notes for the formal meetings, the ones that involve decisions, budgets or responsibilities being allocated to other people, and regular weekly/monthly meetings. This will help avoid many common problems and doubts in the next stages of the project. As a project manager, you are the main beneficiary of this, since you will have a lot of documented information with which you can make better decisions. Besides,  you can refer to your notes with the date and expectations described.

Once you’ve mastered these tips, you’re ready to be a meeting master; not just as a Project manager but also as developer, designer or whatever task you have assigned. This will help you keep track of a lot of information and make adequate decisions, no matter what comes your way.