Saturday, February 12, 2011

Construction Meeting Minutes

George Orwell once said "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future." In a similar vein, he who controls the meeting minutes controls the construction project. What do I mean? I'll conclude with my answer but will first cover the contents of meeting minutes.

What do Meeting Minutes do?
They help the project team track the progress of construction, what was discussed, what was resolved, who attended the meeting  and a slew of other items.

Below is a list of items that the minutes should include. I like to use a title page to convey this information. You can find a template of my meeting minutes here.
  1. Meeting #
  2. Meeting Date
  3. Meeting Location
  4. Project Name
  5. Project Location & Address
  6. Minutes Prepared by:
  7. Date of Distribution
  8. Conf Call in # and Code (if applicable)
  9. Who Attended and How (in person, phone, Skype, etc.)
  10. Project Directory (Name, Firm, Role, Cell #, Email Address)
  11. Items & Documents Distributed at the Meeting and to Whom.
  12. MM Disclaimer

Ask a dozen project managers how minutes should be formatted and you'll get a dozen different answers. Some people will claim that minutes should be formatted into 4 sections:

  1. Issues Identified
  2. Items Discussed
  3. Decisions Made
  4. Action Items Assigned

I like this method for its simplicity but it's not perfect or construction. Find out what works for you and your team. Look at previous minutes distributed by your firm or spend some time on Google.

My Format For Construction
Like I said, construction projects are a different beast. I like to use the formatting listed below. I should mention that it is not a perfect format and no format ever will be. As your career progresses, you will find better and better ways to tighten up and strengthen your minutes. That being said, my formatting…

  1. General Topics - Announcements & Notices
  2. Administrative - Contracts & Change Orders
  3. Scope of Work - Discuss the actual work
  4. Document Management - Construction Specific Documents such as RFIs, Submittals, etc.
  5. Meetings - Next Meeting Information
  6. Distributions - Items distributed at the meeting & Items distributed with Meeting Minutes.
  7. Disclaimer

Like most people, I use Microsoft Word for my minutes. However, I like to use a table format and Excel does not have the ability to edit or proofreading features necessary. I also like to avoid auto-formatting in Word. 
  • To the left of the table, I keep 3 columns used to denote numbering. Every line item needs to be unique and the 3 columns help keep track of that.
  • To the right of the 3 columns, I have a column for 'Input date'. It helps to note when the information was entered into the meeting minutes and helps to identify the oldest items still needing resolution.
  • Moving right, the next column is the body of the minutes. The widest by far, this column is used to track the 'meat' of the project.
  • Finally, the right side of the page also has 3 columns. One to track the initials of the responsible party, one to track the current status of that line item, and one to track the due date of that item.


Miscellaneous Formatting
I also like to include the following items into my footer so that they appear on every sheet:
  1. Meeting Date
  2. Project Name
  3. Meeting #
  4. Page # of #
  5. Print Date
  6. Print Time

Similar to the disclaimer in our Field Observation Reports, our meeting minutes need to have a disclaimer. I like to use the following disclaimer:
Meeting Minutes prepared by Firm Name shall be deemed accurate as the record of matters discussed and conclusions reached.  Corrections shall be reported to Project Manager at Firm Name before within three (3) calendar days of distribution of this document.  Unresolved issues and new information will appear.  Resolved items may be deleted.  Please see past versions of these minutes for missing information.  Items in select a color are new or updated discussions.

Best Practices
  1. Type the minutes and distribute as quickly as possible while things are fresh in your mind. It's also the professional thing to do.
  2. Don’t try to type the minutes during the meeting. You will miss all of the big picture items. There is also a unprofessional feeling to the person who pecks away at their laptop during a meeting. Email me if you want to debate this. I will make one concession for construction projects and that is during design meetings, you may need to open the Revit file to discuss a specific issue.
  3. If you are running the meeting, you should not be taking the notes, have a colleague or an underling (I use that term respectfully) prepare the notes. It helps them develop as a professional.
  4. Variation - Some people like to show new items as bold text, other use colors. I like to use green text for new items and bold text to help formatting hierarchies.
  5. Keep a binder of your marked up minutes. If an issue arises, you can quickly scan minutes to see how the issue evolved from week to week.
  6. Let a resolved issue stay on the minutes for a week to show that it has been closed. Then delete it.

The Final (and Most Important) Tip
Let's get back to that opening quote by Mr. Orwell. Meeting minutes are the written record of the project. If you control the meeting minutes, you control the written project record. An example:
  • One week, you (the General Contractor) ask the Owner to provide a specific document and he agrees. You use the meeting minutes to note "GC requested copy of Construction Lender Funding Requirements. Owner agreed to provide by COB (close of business) 02/18/2011." February 18 comes and goes and you do not have the needed document. Next meeting the owner says that he forgot. On the minutes, you note "Owner has not provided copy of lending document." If there is a debate over whether the owner sent the document, the written project record shows that it was not. However be warned, if the owner did in fact send the document, has a copy of the email and a copy of the 'read receipt', your meeting minutes won’t mean a thing and you'll look dumb.

I generally use this to my advantage when I request a deliverable and the responsible party misses their deadline. I'm not saying that you should  participate in unethical actions, try to slip something by the team, or practice revisionist history. It is merely a way to reinforce your version of history.
Similarly, if you are not responsible for preparing the meeting minutes, get into the habit of reviewing the published minutes immediately after they are published. While this may seem like a tedious, trivial or uninteresting action, it is paramount of a good architect/GC/developer. Look for any language that would cause you to assume excess liability or commit to impractical deadlines. Make your list of exceptions along with recommended replacement text, and reply to the distributor. If you do this early in a project, you will be sending a sign that you know what you are doing, you will not let small things slip by, and you will not be taken advantage of.

The M&M Rule
This seems like a good time to provide a not perfect, but enlightening and entertaining anecdote. While on tour, Van Halen was one of the first bands to produce larger-than-life concerts. Their specifications for power, amps, lighting, etc… were very detailed. Van Halen needed to develop a quick litmus test to see if the promoter followed their specifications. Their solution was Article 126. In one area of the contract, the band states their backstage food and beverage requests such as Bud Light Beer, Bowl of M&Ms, and Bottled Water. Elsewhere, buried deep in the technical specifications was a clause, Article 126, stipulating that there were to be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area. When the band rolled up to the venue with their dozens of trucks, the band manager would walk through the backstage area and see if the brown M&Ms had been removed. If they had, the band could take comfort in knowing that the promoter executed the contract requirements accurately and thoroughly read the contract.
Further reading on the M&M clause:

Meeting minutes aren't glamorous but they are necessary. A true professional takes pride in his work and if you work hard to perfect your craft, it will pay dividends. Your projects will run more smoothly, less items will fall through the cracks, and you'll hopefully have to herd fewer cats. Don’t also forget, you can better control the written record of the project…