Best practices for Construction Meeting Minutes
As pointed out before, accurate project documentation such as field reports and meeting notes can be of great importance.
Why? Here is a quick summary:
Good documentation will help avoid mediation, arbitration, or litigation. It will help resolve things without needing the intervention of a judge. But if some things should go wrong and your case is brought to court there’s no doubt, documents can testify. They can be used as evidence. Well documented meeting notes are the best defence (or offence) in case of construction disputes.
Moreover, thanks to better communication your projects will run more smoothly and less items will fall through the cracks. It is very important that everybody is doing the right thing at the right time and written reports and communication help you achieve this. When assuming that everyone knows what to do (because it’s so obvious according to you) sooner or later surprises will follow and what seems logic and straightforward to you doesn’t to others.
Field reports for sure are not glamorous, but they are necessary …
So, let’s take a look at some best practices that will help you get the most from your meeting notes and weekly/monthly construction progress field reports.
Best practices for construction meeting notes
Complete, reliable and accurate view on the project status
Essential to to the weekly or monthly progress meetings is that all parties are expected to attend them: owner, contractor (and even sometimes subcontractors), architects, and engineers. This means the meeting minutes reflect the view of all parties and should give a complete, reliable and accurate documentation on the current status of the project as well as the next steps, as agreed on by all parties. 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.
Construction project meeting minutes should not just include the standard topics such as safety, RFI’s, schedules and changes. These are important topics and they should be discussed regularly, but if certain issues are discussed (for example how the weather impacted site work) these items must also be documented.
These issues may appear in other project documents like daily reports as well, but where those reports might represent the view of one party, the key difference is that meeting minutes should reflect all the views of all the parties.
Daily field reports, on the other hand, give a daily overview of the work done as viewed by one party (e.g. a contractor). As such they are less representative for the view of all parties. They are useful because monthly/weekly progress reports and meeting minutes alone do not provide a continuous daily record of project work. Contractors often maintain records of construction activities. However, these documents are not always available or accessible to project managers and other team members that are not present on site. As a result, the daily construction field reports are critical to filling communications gaps and providing the project management staff with daily updates on activities in the field.
Type out and distribute the reports as soon as possible
Type out the reports and distribute them as quickly as possible, while things are fresh in your mind and the other parties. Write out the minutes within a day or two after the meeting, while the content is still up to date and relevant. Sending out the meeting notes in a timely manner is also important to keep the project moving forward as it gives direction on priorities, what needs to get done next and by whom, required changes, etc… Also take in mind that a lawyer or judge could call into question meeting minutes that were not distributed in a timely manner.
Often field reports and meeting notes are distributed with a clause that states they are considered accurate and approved unless revisions are requested within 2, 3 or maybe 5 days. Thus, the keeper of the minutes must get them out in time to be reviewed, commented on, and, if necessary, revised before the next meeting.
If a commenter does not agree with an item in the meeting minutes, then a statement may be added to the meeting minutes that indicates that the commenter has objected to an item. This item should then be further discussed until resolution is found; the resolution should be included in the meeting minutes.
Meeting minutes must be distributed to the entire team, not just the attendees. Typically, at the first meeting the keeper of the minutes will request a distribution list from all the attending parties and that list should be kept up to date throughout the duration of the project.
Include enough detail and be specific
Meeting minutes should contain the substance of the meeting in sufficient detail such that a person who did not attend the meeting will know what occurred in the meeting. Add photos and markups to documents and photos to illustrate and clarify items. Remember, sad but true, that a lot of people scan meeting notes and field reports and only pay attention to (and react to) photos. Marked up photos are much clearer and more effective than plain text!
Be specific. A statement that at the time you wrote it seemed to you clear enough may be without value for others that didn’t attend the meeting or for a lawyer or judge in case of disputes many months/years later.
For example, consider this entry: “We were installing that pump and the anchor bolts were too short.”
- What was the activity?
- What drawing detail was defining the projection?
- Which pump is being discussed?
- Where is it located?
- What is the follow-up and when is it expected?
- What are the possible fixes?
- How much is too short?
- What successor work will this delay?
Stick to the facts
Keep it factual, and don’t use the minutes or field reports to ventilate frustrations. If the writing is clear and factual, it will not be open for interpretation (by other parties or lawyers).
Follow note-taking best practices
Gather all notes taken by others from your company who attended the meeting. Incorporating them into the minutes can really help flesh out the discussion and make your minutes as complete as possible.
If you are the only one from your company, try to stick with keywords and finish off the report when you are back at the office. Don’t try to type out the complete minutes during the meeting. You will miss all of the big picture items and this is not very professional. If you have a junior with you, you can ask him/her to type out as much of the notes as possible during the meeting.
TIP: voice to text works well on most mobile devices, you should definitely give it a try. Back at the office (or anywhere where’s it’s not too noisy), just read the texts to your mobile and it will be converted to text. This can save you a lot of time with writing out meeting notes.
Use the right tools
Use the right tools to make field reports happen. There are very good and affordable tools out there that can make the process of drafting meeting notes and progress field reports much easier and less time consuming.
Here’s an overview and comparison of three Apps everyone will know: Microsoft One Note, Evernote, Google Drive. In essence the big advantage that these tools offer is the possibility to take notes from a tablet on site and then continue working from a desktop on the same document when you’re back at the office.
Whereas these tools are generic tools (with which I mean they are not built specifically to draft construction meeting notes), you might consider our very ArchiSnapper – the ‘Evernote’ for construction field reports if you like. ArchiSnapper is, just like Evernote, very easy to use but it brings some advantages to the table which are specific for construction reports, such as:
- Automated contacts table with columns for ‘attendees’ and ‘distribution’
- Automated observation numbering
- Markup photos and drawings
- Clone a previous report
- Work together with colleagues on the same set of projects and contacts
- Assign observations to contacts (like subcontractors)
Another advantage of the right tools (like Dropbox, Drive, …) is that you always have access to the contract documents and approved work plans and use them while observing work.
Be careful of language used. Don’t use abbreviations or be sure to define them first – does PM mean Project Manager or something else?
Rather than using a person’s name, consider referring to the person by their role. (“The Contractor stated,” rather than “Mark stated”).
Avoid vague words and formulate everything as specific, unambiguously and accurate as possible.
Once approved, do not change
Once a report is approved, it should never be changed. If a mistake is found or the report needs editing, make the notations on the next report—don’t edit approved historic reports. This is crucial!
When you see errors in the meeting notes you receive
If you are not responsible for preparing the meeting minutes, make a habit of reviewing the minutes immediately after they are published. While this may seem like an uninteresting action, it is very important to do so. Look for any language that can work against you (e.g. impractical deadlines).
When you determine that a response to a meeting minute is necessary, be sure to inform the author in writing prior to the date by which you must respond. You may respond just to the keeper of the meeting minutes, although it is recommended to respond to the entire distribution list, especially if want to rectify an error. That way, your email or your response will be part of all parties’ records. If you do this early in a project, you are sending a sign to people you are serious about your work and you will not be taken advantage of.
In the event that the error is serious (and/or can have significant impact), insist on corrections to the meeting minutes. There is no guarantee that a revision will be made, but your request will be on record noting the deficiency in the minutes and that this deficiency was serious.
I hope these best practices will help you draft better and more effective meeting notes, in a more efficient way. They will for sure reduce the risk on disputes and claims. Good luck!
To conclude here are some other articles on our blog about making better field reports and meeting notes:
- Construction Daily Report Template
- Building blocks of a professional field report
- Field reports and punch lists with ArchiSnapper – here are some samples
These articles will give you insight on what should go in a field report and how it should be structured and formatted. They demonstrate how professional field reports and meeting notes contain items like report title and number, project information, report date and time, weather conditions, contacts table with people present and report distribution, the observations table and how to complement observations with an observation number, photos, markups to drawings and photos, assignees, …
Resources used for this article, and definitely worth reading: