A young designer’s guide to writing design meeting minutes
By Joseph V. Messina, CPD
This column will mean more to young plumbing designers than to us old timers. However, old timers may get something out of it too, and may even learn something new.
During every design project, team members will meet numerous times, and minutes of each meeting will be required. One team member will act as recorder of the meeting’s minutes. Will it be you? Don’t shy away from this responsibility. It can be a great learning experience.
Meeting minutes are the most important part of a design meeting. They are the official and legal records of meetings, so it is crucial that they are accurate. Do you know how the minutes of a design project meeting differ from those of an organizational meeting? The meeting minutes of an organization are based on Robert's Rules of Order, which are the most widely used parliamentary procedures for societies in the United States. Let’s forget about Robert’s Rules of Order for now, though, as this article covers project meetings, not organization meetings.
A document that plays an important role in the meeting is the agenda, which should include weekly accomplishments, questions or issues. The agenda helps set the tone of the meeting and contains the items to be discussed regarding the project’s logistics. It is important to be specific in the list of items by including what must be accomplished by the next meeting as well as who is responsible for each task. As far as past accomplishments are concerned, provide a laundry list of topics or tasks that have some take-away value.
When appropriate, include attachments as part of the agenda to provide more information, such as submittals and RFI reports, upcoming tasks if the project is in the design phase and project schedules if the project is under construction. If the agenda is too long, however, it will lose its meaning, so it should fit on a single page.
If you have been selected to be the recorder of the meeting minutes, you need to collect the names and contact information of all team members. At the beginning of each meeting, pass around a sign-in sheet that includes columns for the name, company, discipline, email address and phone number of each attendee.
Summarize the discussion of each talking point using your copy of the agenda as a base for the topics and issues; one or two sentences for each topic should be sufficient. Make sure to keep track of whatever conclusions were reached and of any loose ends that must be investigated further.
Action discussions should be noted, and tasks should be assigned to specific people with a completion date and time. It is not necessary to record every single comment; concentrate on getting the gist of the discussion and taking enough notes to summarize it later. Meeting minutes are the official record of what happened, not of what was said by everyone at the meeting.
You need to decide which device is easiest for you to use while listening to the discussion and also jotting down your notes, such as a laptop computer, iPad or even the old pen and paper. Personally, I prefer a laptop, because I can type faster than I can write. No matter what device you use, the minutes need to be approved by the project manager or project architect/engineer.
Once the minutes are approved, you can send them to the rest of the team for their review. This should occur as soon after the meeting as possible. Include a note at the end of the minutes to let team members know how to contact you if they need to make corrections. After making any necessary changes, you will need to reissue the updated minutes to the team.
The most important thing I have to say to young designers is that they shouldn’t be intimidated by taking meeting minutes. You may be called on many times to write meeting minutes, and the ability to produce concise, coherent minutes is widely admired and valued.
Joseph V. Messina, CPD, is the section manager of plumbing engineering for HDR Architects Inc. in Atlanta. He has more than 30 years of experience specializing in plumbing and fire protection system design for instructional, research and medical facilities.