Single-Source Solutions: Have Better Meetings (December 2000)
Several years ago, I was introduced to a building owner's facility engineer who was responsible for guiding the design team and the construction manager through the construction of a new 280,000-sq-ft pediatric care facility. A registered engineer and a person who could see the "big picture," this person taught me several things about the building process. One of the more lasting memories I have of this specific job was how he took charge and managed the design and construction team, and in particular, how he did this through meeting minutes. Around the same time, I was also the design engineer on another hospital project where the construction management firm's project manager was the individual taking charge of the process. Together, these two individuals helped me to appreciate the importance of meeting minutes. This month I thought I'd share their approach.
Plan To Succeed
The first rule of a meeting is to have an agenda. When starting out on a project, there are no current action items to report in the meeting minutes, but you certainly should have a "kickoff" agenda. Assuming a meeting consists of more than one person, it is imperative that time is not wasted for anyone attending the meeting. The agenda sets the stage for time management of the process.
The second rule of a meeting is to use a numbering system for tracking activities. When recording meeting minutes, each action item should have two numbers. The first number designates the meeting and the second number identifies the action item. For example, meeting minute 4-32 can easily be identified as the 4th meeting and the 32nd item to be addressed in these meetings. Follow-up activities should remain under the appropriate action item. For our example, follow up regarding item 4-32 may have additional criteria, comments, etc. When this occurs, the additional data is tabulated within the 4-32 action item box and a date added (see Amanda Parolise's "HVAC Designer Tips" example).
The third rule of a meeting is th
Consider Pages And Phases
The fourth rule is always assign a person or persons to complete the action item and document a completion due date. Unless the item is considered "information only," the meetings are intended to discuss project issues that require resolution. For the most part, action items are the only items that should be discussed and addressed in these meetings. Remember, everyone's time is important, so time management of meetings is essential.
Next, keep the meeting minutes to two pages. Many may argue the practicality of this rule, but I was taught that if you have more than two pages of action items, then solutions to action items (questions, conflicts, etc.) were not getting resolved. As soon as the team begins a third page of notes, this should raise a red flag that the meeting is now diverting away from effective use of everyone's time.
The sixth meeting rule is to set a reasonable time limit for the session. Depending on the stage of the project, the allowance of time can vary. At the start of a project (design or construction), there may be numerous issues to address. As the project moves to the middle of the process, less time may be needed for meetings. As the project nears the end or project startup, more time may be appropriate. Rather than extend the meeting duration, the team should consider increasing the frequency of meetings to limit the time spent addressing issues.
Time Management: Have Your Minutes In Hand
Finally, never to go back to the office without completed meeting minutes in hand. Either stay at the meeting site and complete the minutes, or stop somewhere along the way back to the office, have a coffee, and finish the notes while everything is fresh in your mind. Remember, you can count on distractions as soon as you walk into the office, so have your meeting minutes completed before that happens. ES