In many organizations, the leader of the meeting must fill multiple roles. You probably created the agenda, are guiding the discussion, and also responsible for taking the notes.
Over the years I’ve developed some habits that help me fill both the meeting facilitator role and the note-taker role simultaneously.
- Before the meeting, I list out agenda topics with sub-questions that I want to ask. Sometimes I send this to the attendees, sometimes this is my personal reference for what needs to be accomplished. I leave space between each item so I can jot down notes next to my questions. (By the way, my meeting agenda and meeting notes templates are included in the Business Analyst Template Toolkit.)
- I’ve developed a bit of short-hand for capturing key items. For example, I use “AI” to call out an action item and “NR” to call out new requirements identified in the meeting. Other short-hand elements keep me focused on what was discussed in context of the original meeting purpose and the sidebars that might be issues that need to be followed up on outside the meeting.
- For intensive meetings, I block out time immediately following the meeting to type up notes. I find it nearly impossible to write everything down in the meeting itself without slowing the meeting to a bare crawl. But if I have time to type up my notes immediately after the discussion I can often remember things through stream of consciousness that I might forget the next day or even a few hours later.
- Throughout the meeting I summarize the outcome and use other active listening techniques to slow down the pace of the discussion and ensure everyone has a common understanding of what’s been discussed. Good meeting notes reflect a common understanding of all participants. Often what I thought I heard and what other participants heard are different stories entirely. Summarizing is a good practice that fills both the facilitator and the note-taker roles.
Trying to hold down multiple roles is not always the best situation, but you can make the best of it by incorporating some of these habits. These habits help me keep my sanity and at times prevent duplicate discussions, missed details, or a false sense of alignment.
15 thoughts on “How I Take Meeting Notes and Facilitate the Discussion Without Driving Myself Crazy”
Well,I use a mix of some processes mentioned above depending on the kind of meeting I am attending, but one thing I think worth mentioning is that ,when we use white boards for writing down d points, we take a picture with a cam or mobile phone, of that Board before erasing it for further discussion, after the meeting we share all the pictures, which helps everyone in meeting to recall whatever was discussed easily. Trust me this helps us save a lot of time.
The best process I’ve come across is having a colleague to record notes/issues/actions into a pre-formatted document (using a laptop) during the workshop. Then, using a screen projector, display the document back to the attendees, getting agreement on what has been decided. Then print off the document and get the attendees to sign the document BEFORE they leave the workshop. I’m not sure that every user I’ve come across would actually like to be recorded. It might intimidate some and shut them up. I don’t think I could ever go down the OneNote route
Brenda I was thinking of blogging on this topic for a long time now. I guess we all end up following same/similar techniques .Creating MOM’s not only helps up to record the key decisions but may even help us judging the scope of requirements.
Some techniques which I follow in addition to your:
I make it a point that I share the meeting notes with the client after the meeting .This helps ours (BA’s) to confirm our understanding and get a signoff from client.
I record all the meetings and see that every recording has meeting notes attached to it. Benefit of this is sometimes you don’t have time to go through the entire recording. Meeting notes come very handy at that time.
I have always used a combination of all the techniques discussed above depending on the number of people in the workshop, what facilities are available and how long the workshop is.
Recording with the permission of everyone is very good even if we do take minutes – it is easy to play it, simply listen and feel sure that all points have been captured.
Whiteboard can record key points but if I were using the whiteboard and interact closely with everyone, then I had to become the “full time” facilitator and it is always good to check if another junior BA is available to take detailed notes at those times. Or if one of the business team persons was available to ask questions and do some of the facilitation, then it is easy to take notes and participate as the add-on facilitator.
But recording is good to ensure that nothign has been missed.
I used to use a tape recorder but recently when I could not for one project I learnt how to take notes real-time. I create a word document of the minutes with the expected attendees and the topics based upon a template. As the meeting progresses I type into each item as much as I can. Then after the meeting either in the same room or back at my desk I will edit the minutes and send it to people from the project for their comments and updates before it goes out to the users.
I find that I can almost capture a discussion verbatim when I use Autocorrect to expand on abbreviated words. I also enter the main participant’s names into autocorrect, so I just type “J ” and it expands to “James” or I use it for common terms, “A” to expand to “Action Item”, etc. You get the idea. If I am becoming the bottleneck, I will start reading what I’m typing to keep the conversation going. Not often, but only a few times a meeting seems to be OK.
I really like the MS OneNote ideas. Will have to look into it!
I try to bullet-point notes on a white board (with printing option) – usually in summary form and also have a scribe volunteer from within the audience. This achieves two things – agreement on action points and Process Intiatives and allows the detail to be captured by a third party. For detail follow-up if necessary we record who raised the issue and minute the meeting outcomes.
Wonderful article! I am in the same camp as Derick in using OneNote to capture not only the text of the meeting but the audio as well. I am a PM and we have a fantastic BA that will lead the requirements workshops and I will join whenever I can and together we can usually capture everything. We do not usually have a problem with clients in having our laptops up in the meeting to capture requirements, if participants are on their laptops and not paying attention…that is a problem, that is why I will usually communicate that we need to have ours up so we don’t lose valuable information, all others should be minimized and used during breaks.
Very good article and Very informative Comments.
I use Mindmap to take notes, where the Agenda items form the main Branch and decision, questions, notes etc becomes subbranches. I keep bringing the Mindmap on the screen from time to time to summarize the meeting and mail the map to the participants.
Laura, I use this in all kinds of meetings. I realized I’m an accidental business analyst 😉 I usually play many roles on the same project. It started out with creating user stories eXtreme Programming style: Get everybody, developers, customers etc. in the room and let (mainly the customers, depends a bit on the atmosphere in the group) everybody write their wishes on index cards. After doing a lot of workshops with post-its, flipcharts and index cards (besides release and iteration planning also systems thinking and open space planning), I noticed that the group dynamics are completely different – everybody can participate, so the group owns the outcome, and the facilitator is not the bottleneck.
The other thing is, that if people move things around (as in planning with index cards or creating a diagram from post-its) they use their brain in different ways, so the outcome is more creative.
Thank you for your sharing your articles, they are always an informative and thought-provoking read.
I am definitely of the DIY-notes camp, even when I am not the designated note taker I prefer to take down at least the important points, decisions and questions arising from the meeting.
The techniques you’ve listed here sound like a solid approach to note taking. I also use “AI” for follow-ups, and other shorthand – e.g. “Q” next to a question that I thought of that needs to be clarified with e.g. someone not present in the meeting, or at a later point in the meeting.
Another technique I use is that if a there is a discussion about a particular document, and there is just no room to write notes on the document itself, I create “EndNote” style references by marking a place in a document with a reference (e.g. R1) and then in my notebook record any relevant discussions/thoughts pertaining to that item. I also reference any items that I know that someone else is making notes on or is going to follow up – so that I know who to ask about that later.
I generally have these notes sequentially numbered in order to keep track and ensure I have not missed anything when reviewing/typing up notes/actioning later. All my referencing is enclosed by a box or a circle so that it stands out from the rest of the blurb.
Thanks Willem, Fadi, and Derick for your comments.
Willem, I really like the idea of a shared responsibility. Do you use this in all kinds of meetings or specifically requirements elicitation sessions?
Derick, That sounds like quite a sophisticated and impressive process. If I understand it correctly, you are typing up your notes through the course of the meeting. If so, do you meet any resistance from attendees about using your computer or for the meeting being recorded? What if you need to use your computer to demo or project?
I learned this trick in college when working on my thesis. Now, I use it in the work environment as a tool — MS OneNote. I used OneNote to actually record the meeting that is taking place. This doesn’t mean that I actually listen back through the entire meeting to capture the notes, however. Rather, OneNote will actually sync the “text” portion of my notes to the recorded audio.
If I need to clarify my thoughts on the meeting I “rewind” through the notes to capture the details. As the audio plays, the notes that I took during that time are highlighted to illustrate visually where I was during the meeting when I documented the note. Then, I’m able to add to the notes.
Another tip that I utilize is timestamping my notes. As my meetings are recorded, there is a timer on my display. If I already know that there is something I want to come back to and expand on, I simply take a note of the elasped time and make a note to come back to in audio – perfect!
In a sense, I use OneNote as a aid to detail information that I may have missed during the meeting.
I use these techniques all the time. Good article and nice notes.
I prefer to put the meeting notes on a flipchart, whiteboard, or a bunch of index cards or sticky notes so everyone can see them (and with the cards, edit them as well).
Makes it easier to combine facilitating and notetaking – it’s a shared responsibility.
I’m even more inspired to do that after seeing Joke Vandemaele at work doing requirements analysis on a wall full of flipcharts.
In meetings where this is not possible, I usually ask someone from the group to take notes (I may take some additional notes to serve as a reminder).