Efficient project meetings and a small template

So here’s a new post on something I’ve been using for years. A simple actionlist that has grown to a tool I use very often. Maybe ‘tool’ sounds complicated, but it really isn’t, I guess thats part of why I like it so much. So what is it? In its essence its a way of working to get your project meetings done efficiently. As a side effect I created a spreadsheet with several tabs for listing actions, issues, risks and the like for a project. Over the years it changed to reflect my way of working, so maybe its better to elaborate on that before explaining the sheet.
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Most projects have recurring meetings, either progress meetings, specialist teams or steering committees, whatever you like. Each of these meetings has its own set of meeting minutes with actions etc. listed. Added to that are the ad hoc meetings to clarify specific issues, etc. all in all, a lot of meetings and a lot of reports. Whenever we have a meeting, if we’re lucky we get an agenda which usually looks something like the example below, but usually it is a lot shorter, or there is none at all;

  1. Opening
  2. Set agenda
  3. Feedback from other meetings
  4. Actions
  5. Issues
  6. Risks
  7. Decisions
  8. … here we have some content specific items
  9. Any other business
  10. Closure

So whats wrong with that? a lot, simply because this is not the way we get our work done. In this scenario, some where during the week we all grab all the meetingreports and actions lists we have lingering around and start rearranging stuff in our own system. My take on this is; use 1 list, add everything that is going on in your project on that single list, even allow people to send in their own personal to-do items and add them. This allows everyone in your project, to just use a single list with all their items on it. Very clear and very transparent, if you use some simple selection feature (excel ‘autofilter’ for example) its very easy to create a view of what you have to do. Obviously this wont work for any type of project, but so far the maximum I had was a 400+ number of actions in a single list.

Now when having a meeting as structured according to the example agenda above, you will probably discuss every topic multiple times, simply because of the way it has been setup. After you’ve handled the ‘Actions’ (item 4 above), you’ve probably discussed every single topic in the project, and at Issues, Risks and Decisions, you’ll probably start repeating yourself. To prevent this, categorize all your list items (actions, issues, etc) to the agenda item (specific topics) to which they belong, and remove the generic ones from the agenda, and add a final ‘Other open items’, here’s the adjusted example;

  1. Opening
  2. Set agenda
  3. Feedback from other meetings
  4. Topic 1
  5. Topic 2
  6. Topic ..
  7. Other open items
  8. Any other business
  9. Closure

Before the meeting sort your actionlist on agenda item they belong to. During the meeting, you handle each topic first by actions, issues, etc. and then discuss the remainder of that topic. Only then switch to the next, and when all done, deal with the items in your list that weren’t specific to a topic at the ‘Other open items’ item. This way you make sure that every topic, is only discussed once, which is far more efficient.

Quite often I run into situations where no one really cares about the meeting minutes. In such cases its quite often very easy to switch to only maintain the actionable items (actions, issues, etc.) and not create a full report. This does require a better description of the item, because there is no context. So make sure the description is clear enough that also someone who wasn’t in the meeting understands what its about. In addition to this I prefer to add the status info or any other relevant piece of information as a log to the action, by adding the date, who said it, and what they said, to the description (see the screenshot below for an example).

The excel template I use for this can be downloaded below, it has some handy features to support the described way of working. It has an easy filter (even automatic if you care to add the userid’s of your project members) to select what needs to be done on the ‘Overview’ tab. Configuration of the sheet can be done to some extend on the ‘Input data’ tab.

Below there some screenshots.

I’d welcome any feedback, so let me know what you think.

Downloading

Here’s the download (downloaded 2462 times).

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