The importance of keeping good construction meeting minutes is brought home in a quote from George Orwell:  “He who controls the present, controls the past.  He who controls the past, controls the future.” [i]  An extension of that profound bit of wisdom is, “He who controls the construction meeting minutes controls the construction project.”  Construction meeting minutes provide the project team with the method of tracking the progress of construction and recording what was discussed, what was resolved, who attended the meeting, as well as a host of other issues.  Their impact is best illustrated by an example which is provided at the conclusion of this blog.

1. Conducting and Documenting the Meeting

A few simple pointers to conduct and document a successful meeting:

  • Have regular meetings at regular times.  Do not put meetings off for any reason other than an emergency.

  • Special meetings should be called by written note or memorandum.  Verbal notice is generally not effective unless the meeting has to occur within the next 30 or 45 minutes.

  • Always start the meeting on time.  When you are finished, break up the meeting and indicate to the attendees that the meeting is over.

  • Prepare a written agenda in advance of the meeting and stick to it. Provide the agenda to the attendees before the meeting and have the agenda available during the meeting to keep everyone focused on the agenda topics.

  • Make sure that you or someone at the meeting is keeping accurate notes of the meeting.

2. Contents of Effective Meeting Minute Notes 

The key components of the meeting minute notes should contain the following:

  • Show the date, time, and place of the meeting on each page of the notes.

  • Put the name, title, and company affiliation of all attendees, as well as the information about key persons referenced in the meeting minutes but who are not in attendance.

  • Cover all matters discussed at the meeting that relate to the project.

  • The notes should be concise.  They do not need to cover all the discussions, but must clearly state the resolution of each important point and the key reasons that supported the decision.

  • Ideally all representatives attending the meeting should read the notes and initial them at the conclusion of the meeting.  If notes are not immediately available, the notes should be distributed to all attendees.  If a representative refuses to initial the notes, let it pass.

  • Each meeting attendee should receive a copy of the notes of the meeting.  A copy should also be included in the project master file.

  • The meeting minutes should include a closing provision along the following lines to ensure the record of the conversation has “buy in” from all attendees:

    The meeting minutes prepared by [company name] reflect decisions and agreements made collectively at this meeting and shall be deemed an accurate record of the matters discussed and conclusions reached.  All attendees are to review these minutes carefully and are to be prepared to answer any questions at the next meeting.  Corrections shall be reported to the project manager within three (3) calendar days of distribution of these meeting minutes.  All corrections and/or additions to these minutes must be sent in writing within three (3) days of receipt.  Otherwise, the minutes will stand as recorded.

3. Documentation of Agreements Made in Meetings 

The documentation and recording of agreements made during a meeting are an essential record for a construction project.  This is a very important part of the construction project’s written record.

  • If an agreement is reached, the agreement should be specifically noted in the minutes.

  • If an agreement is not reached, the position of each party should be noted. The notes should show what each party will do about the unresolved issue and when they will do it.

4. Topic Issues for Construction Meetings 

All construction projects are different.  The following is a list of items that may be covered in a construction meeting.

  • Safety issues (identify any unsafe conditions, security issues, etc.).

  • Review of unresolved items from previous meeting.

  • Coordination of work between trades.

  • Project schedule.

  • Shop drawings.

  • Review of RFIs.

  • Quality of work/inspections.

  • Document maintenance and updating (updated drawings, as-builts, and inspection documentation).

  • Change Order status before the next meeting by trade (identification of all Change Orders to be negotiated following this meeting or within the next few days).

  • Payment status.

5. Best Practices – Conference / Meeting Minutes Pointers

  • Ideally, the meeting minutes should be kept contemporaneously, as the meeting occurs, and all attendees should initial the meeting minutes before they leave the meeting.  This is, however, often impractical on a construction project.  Should this be the case, the meeting minutes should be typed up and distributed as quickly as possible while things are fresh in your mind.

  • Typing the meeting minutes during the meeting has a major downside in that you may miss some or all of the big picture items.  It may also be distracting to attendees.

  • Keep a log of all your marked-up meeting minutes so that if an issue arises as to corrections, you can quickly scan the minutes to see how the issue evolved from week to week.

  • Unresolved issues should stay on the agenda until they are resolved.

  • Consider this illustration of the importance of controlling the meeting minutes and how the control of the meeting minutes controls the written project record:

    In the first week on the project, the general contractor requests that the owner provide it with a copy of the environmental permit showing when the fish window for the in-water work closure, thus bringing in-water work to a halt.  The contractor uses the meeting minutes to note:  “Contractor requested copy of in-water work permit from the Owner.  Owner agreed to provide contractor a copy of the permit by close of business February 2, 2013.”  February 2, 2013 comes and goes, and the contractor is not provided with the necessary permit.  In the next meeting, the owner indicates that he forgot to send the permit and in the meeting minutes the general contractor notes:  “Owner has not provided contractor with a copy of the fish window permit.”

    Now, down the road, if there is debate as to whether the owner sent the contractor the permit, the written notes will show that it was not sent.  If the owner does in fact send the document, but the meeting minutes reflect otherwise and the owner has a copy of an e-mail or return receipt requested letter, the importance of the meeting minutes will be significantly devalued and you will look foolish.

    Generally, the contractor can use the meeting minutes to its advantage when it requests deliverables and the responsible party misses a deadline.  We are not suggesting that you try to slip something in or that you create revisionist history; rather, meeting minutes are merely a way to reinforce your version of events as they unfold during the meeting.

6. What to do if You are Not Responsible for Keeping the Meeting Minutes 

If you are not the person responsible for keeping the meeting minutes, you should regularly review the published meeting minutes immediately after you receive them.  While this may seem like a tedious, trivial, or uninspiring task, it is of paramount importance.  Look for items in the meeting minutes that do not reflect what was discussed in the meeting (sometimes people miss things).  Also, look for language that would cause you to assume excess accountability, or contains a commitment to an impractical or impossible deadline.  Make your list of exceptions to the meeting minutes, along with the recommended replacement text, and reply to the distributor of the minutes.  By following this format early in the project, you will convey to the person keeping the minutes that you are on top of things and will not let the inaccuracies slip by.  It will also prevent the misguided note takers from controlling the record and seizing the day.  Your input becomes part of the job record.

7. Eddie Van Halen’s Brown M&Ms Rule 

The following is another interesting anecdote.  It may be urban legend, but it has been repeated so many times that there may be a kernel of truth in the story.

While on tour, the rock group Van Halen was one of the first bands to produce larger-than-life concerts.  Their riders (in the music industry, contracts are called “riders”) for power amps, lighting, and other requirements were very detailed.  Van Halen needed to develop a quick test to see if the promoter followed their specifications.  The solution they came up with was in the boilerplate of the rider.  Specifically, the band had a provision which required the promoter to provide the band with food and beverage such as light beer, a bowl of M&Ms, and bottled water.  Elsewhere in the rider, buried deep in the technical specifications, was a clause (known as “Article 126”) requiring that the bowl of M&Ms not contain any brown M&Ms.  When the band pulled up to the venue with their dozens of trucks, the band manager would immediately walk to the backstage area to see if the brown M&Ms had been removed from the M&M bowl.  If they had, the band manager was assured that the promoter had accurately and thoroughly read through the contract, and that the promoter would have all the necessary power amps and lighting for the show.

The analogy to meeting minutes could be, if you were concerned that meeting attendees were not thoroughly reviewing the meeting minutes, bury a line from your favorite song or book in the meeting minutes.  If you receive feedback, you will know the minutes were actually read and were reviewed by the attendees.

8. Closing Thoughts 

Meeting minutes certainly are not glamorous, but keeping the meeting minutes properly will pay big dividends.  Fewer items will fall through the cracks and, by controlling the record, you control the project.

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