Project Status Meetings – how to control the action items?

In every project there is a handful of regular and irregular meetings either attended by the project manager directly or by representative staff, as e.g.

–          Design liaison meetings

–          Internal progress review meetings

–          Customer progress review meetings

–          Quarterly steering board meetings

–          Site activity planning meetings

–          Interface meetings

–          Test planning meetings

–          Daily progress review meetings

Rule number 1 is to ensure that of each meeting a dedicated Minutes of Meeting (MoM) is being prepared with a list of all participants, date & time, topic of discussion, precise list of discussed items including decisions taken, applicable deadlines, results and responsible parties. It has been proven advantageous to have a projector and a printer ready at the meeting, so that the MoM is being prepared directly at the time of the meeting taking place, for everyone to see and to be printed directly afterwards for all attendees to sign. Once signed and accepted it can be scanned and distributed via email (as scanned PDF and corresponding Word file).

However the recording of minutes of meeting is only one part of the equation. Rule number 2 is follow-up and ensuring that all action items are being attended to is a more difficult and challenging job especially as such action items usually have to be fit in into the regular project and are often seen as “on top” issues. From my experience there have been several attempts on how to regularize the follow-up including:

a)      Including of all action items into the project schedule (Primavera)

b)      Filling long spreadsheets with all action items and following them up in one huge file

c)       Setting up an SQL database with a user-friendly front end and filling and reviewing the action items by a dedicated person

Method a) has proven not only very unpractical but also counter-productive as it disturbed the usual reporting structures and influence the update processes tremendously. A no go from my point of view.

Method b) is a common way of going about it and depending on the number of meetings, the number of participants and the number of action items, it certainly can work. However once the 50 to 60 issues limit has been crossed the list itself becomes an action item to be followed-up and too much time is being used up to maintain the list.

Method c), if thorough fully lived, can be the best approach to the situation. Either included in a requirements management tool such as DOORS or as a stand-alone database, the advantages are the user-friendly GUI helping the team to concentrate on the content and not the presentation, as well as the flexibility that a database can give you in structuring and filtering open and closed items. Disadvantageous is however that you fill most likely need a full-time resource for the maintenance and using of the database, someone who will have to accompany you to all meetings and execute the tool.

In summary, method b) and c) might be the solution that can help your project, however it is mostly of importance that you as a project manager establish the process most suitable for your project. Analyze the participating entities (resources, attendees, action items), find the right tool and assign (if required) a dedicated resource.

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