I was reminded of something while working on a project and thought I would share the situation with you: Keeping minutes of meetings is often overlooked and, when used, typically results in a grossly incomplete and/or inaccurate document.
Let me ask you: After you meet with a client to review a project, what happens next? This could be a small project, with just you and the client at the meeting, or a large project with an architect, consultant, general contractor, owner’s representative, etc., in attendance. Do you do the right thing? I am talking about keeping meeting minutes: a timely and accurate report, generated in a format that clearly lays out everything, from the date and reason for the meeting, to noting everyone in attendance, and action items agreed to and who is responsible.
For the small meetings, the onus falls on you. For larger projects and meetings, whether you are an integrator or consultant, I have found that the architect typically sends out detailed meeting minutes…but not always. One factor relates to the topic of the meeting. For an AV-only meeting, it’s a tossup: You may be the one who writes the minutes, or it may be the architect. Communication is the key here. When multiple disciplines are all in the same meeting, AV will be only one part of the overall minutes you will receive…you hope!
Let’s look at each of these. If you are on a larger project and the minutes are done by the architect for multiple disciplines, you must carefully read all sections, but especially the one about AV, and make appropriate comments. Those comments should cover additions, deletions, clarifications, etc. Do them right away; otherwise, after a short while, the meeting minutes will become a document of record without your input (you do not want them thinking you will be finished by the wrong date, for example). Also, take note of the other disciplines’ timelines and other factors that may affect you, your timeline, delivery of equipment, etc.
Although it may create more work when the meeting is about just AV, I have found that it is better for you to do the AV meeting minutes rather than relying on the architect and his version of what was discussed, what you meant, etc. You are documenting issues such as locations of devices, mounting heights, size of wall boxes and other critical elements.
Of course, this is meant to benefit you, not hurt you, so be careful. Do not forget to use this record for yourself, as well, to keep your many jobs on track. You do not want to commit to black loudspeakers and order white ones, only to have the architect reference your own minutes where it was agreed that you would supply black!
Even for small meetings, I write something up. I have a form (which I am willing to share) that I typically use. For simple meetings, however, an email can suffice as documentation. Another often overlooked aspect of communication is receipt by the intended party: I always add at the bottom, “Please reply to confirm receipt.” If you do not hear back, give a call…that’s right, a call to confirm receipt is appropriate; I do not like to press issues with follow-up emails. When you speak to your client and he verifies receipt of the email, keep a record of that call. For something like this, I open up my calendar and add a record: the project name and “CALL” in the title, with the outcome of the call in the notes. For example, “Spoke to Tom; he received the email with the notes of call, but has not looked at them, advised that he should and if we do not hear back in a few days, the email will be filed as part of the permanent record for the project.” I have a folder where I track communication for a project, and print to PDF the email and the calendar event, as well.
Something I am experiencing more and more of late is the overall lack of thoroughness on the part of those with whom I interact in all aspects of business (life, too). We seem to have too many things to do at once, and many items slip through the cracks. I find that these records, copied into appropriate project folders, help me keep track of what I said, what they said and what was agreed to.
One more thing: Separate out “Action Items” in your minutes/notes at the beginning or end of the document. You want to clearly call out things that must be done, who is going to do them, what they are going to do and when they will do them. This is a separate grouping of information, titled as such, not blended in the overall notes.
Now, the bad news. I typically spend three hours writing complete meeting minutes/reports after a one-hour meeting because, typically, no one else on the team or in the meeting will help out with what they “recall.” You can try to record the conversation and play it back, but there is no shortcut here, and this is likely the reason so many don’t write them. They are time intensive.
So, I am sure we all agree that having a detailed and accurate record of important meetings is a good idea, right? Yeah, but I have to share with you that, even with meeting minutes agreed to, that does not relieve you from your client changing his mind, something that just happened to me: I was told that drawings for a specific project would not be imported into the architect’s drawings. Two weeks later, I received an email saying that they wanted all the drawings for inclusion (pasting in our work) into the architect’s document for a meeting…the next morning no less…ugh!
So, ultimately, to satisfy the client, I spent a number of hours converting, checking and preparing those drawings for delivery, which, of course, caused delays on other projects I was working on. At the end of the day, the work was unappreciated because this particular client was constantly impacting my workload and schedule with unannounced additional work with extreme deadlines. It became so bad, I asked to be removed from the project.
I’ll discuss contracts and “gotchas” in an upcoming piece…I really have some hair-raising experiences to share.
If you would like a copy of one of my meeting minutes documents to use as a reference, please email me.
If you have any great examples of documentation recommendations, snafus or have stories to share, please send them to me at email@example.com.