The Meaning Behind Meeting Minutes

This post is an expansion on something I raised a few months ago in my post “Herding Cats“:

If it isn’t written down somewhere that stakeholders can get to it, it didn’t happen. Even if it is written down, if it’s not well indexed, it still didn’t happen.

I’m going to start by assuming that everyone reading this recognizes the importance of keeping notes or minutes (which are not the same thing) for the meetings they participate in. It comes back to an old adage “If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”

If you are on a project that spans years, however, the records of your meetings can become less and less helpful. You know the group made a decision at some point, but when? Who was there? What were the reasons? Can you actually point to the discussion later so you don’t have to repeat that process again?

It has taken me longer than I care to admit, but I’ve finally worked out a structure for my records that help both the immediate need for a reference and the longer term need for an index. This can be adapted based on what collaboration tools you have available.

Meeting Name, Date

  • Attendees
  • Absences
  • Open Action Items
    • Label (e.g., AI-20190807-00), Owner, Description
  • Agenda
  • Notes
  • Decisions
    • Label (e.g., D-20190807-00), Description
  • Closed Action Items
    • Label (e.g., AI-20190807-00), Owner, Description, Date Closed

I usually put the Action Items and Decisions in table format. Depending on the collaboration tools, these records can be in one big file that rolls over annually (so you have your 2019 notes, archive them, then your 2020 notes, etc.), or in one file per meeting. If you do the latter, copy the decisions and closed action items into a single file that can serve as an index for the year.

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