In episode 046 of The Civil Engineering Podcast, I am going to discuss an excerpt from John Lowe’s book entitled A Guide to Managing Engineering and Architectural Design Services Contracts. The excerpt, which was discussed with the author’s permission, focuses on helpful strategies for effectively planning, executing and following up on engineering project meetings.
Here are 3 point to consider when arranging or holding a project meeting as a civil engineer:
#1 – Planning for Meetings
Planning for meetings may be the most important part of a meeting as the effectiveness of a meeting is largely dependent on how well the meeting is planned.
Lowe says in his book, “Solid planning is essential, especially when the meeting is to be attended by multiple stakeholders and is to be held at a location several hours away from the Consultant’s office where recovery from forgetting something can be very difficult.”
To maximize effectiveness, one of the things Lowe recommends is the use of a checklist prepared well in advance of the meeting.
#2 – The Meeting Agenda
While the planning of a meeting is important, according to Lowe the meeting agenda or the absence thereof, is the single most important determinant of the effectiveness of a meeting.
Here are 6 suggested guidelines that Lowe recommends regarding meeting agendas:
- A draft agenda should be routed to expected attendees for their input before the project meeting. By doing this, the sense of ownership for the meeting outcome for all attendees is increased. This is an important one, beyond just logistical preparedness, you are getting people to buy in to the meeting before it starts.
- Input from other attendees will help the organizer to be better prepared for unexpected topics that can come up during the meeting. Again, minimizing your own risk in not be able to move a topic forward.
- The finalized agenda should be sent to all attendees prior to the meeting so they can also be prepared for the meeting.
- To improve the probability of accomplishing the purpose of a meeting, as a minimum, a printed agenda should be available to all attendees at the meeting
- The agenda lets the attendees know the order in which the items are to be covered so that the organizer’s desired flow of the meeting is not interrupted by attendees unknowingly bringing up topics that are scheduled for later in the meeting.
- The agenda should be followed during the meeting; however, rigid adherence to the agenda is rarely necessary. Deviation from the agenda frequently occurs and can even be beneficial.
#3- The meeting sign-in sheet
The meeting sign-in sheet is the document used to capture the names and contact information of meeting attendees. Having a clear record of who attended meetings is a vital part of the documentation process.
Preparation of the Sign-In Sheet prior to the meeting accomplishes several benefits;
- The attendee presence will be documented
- Avoidance of the needless distraction of someone scrambling to start circulation of a blank piece of paper to record the attendees after the meeting is underway.
- It establishes a desirable atmosphere that good preparation for the meeting has occurred.
#4 Meeting Summary/Minutes
Meeting minutes/summary document information communicated at meetings. This documentation may well be one of the most important elements in expectation management.
The following are suggestions on documenting effective meetings:
- When the project manager is to lead a meeting, one or more other persons from that firm should attend the meeting. Prior to the meeting, the person responsible for taking notes should be identified. It should be determined beforehand whether a Meeting Summary or Meeting Minutes is to be prepared.
- Consideration should be given to recording meetings, especially if Meeting Minutes are to be prepared. Relatively inexpensive digital recording devices that download directly to a computer are well suited for the recording. Attendees should be advised at the beginning of the meeting that the meeting will be recorded.
- Scanning and attaching the Sign-In Sheet to the Meeting Summary/Minutes, and referencing it as identifying the attendees is an efficient way to document who attended the meeting.
- Draft Meeting Summary/Minutes should be routed to the attendees for comments/confirmation. A cut-off date for receipt of comments should be identified. Once comments have been resolved, finalized Meeting Summary/Minutes should be distributed to all attendees.
More details in this episode…
About John Lowe:
John is a 1961 Civil Engineering graduate from the University of Florida. Following three years of military service as an Army pilot, he enjoyed forty-six years as a consulting engineer involved in both private and public projects as project manager, principal-in-charge, or office manager. He has been registered and practiced in FL, GA, SC, CA, and OR. His last employment assignment was as a Design Coordinator with Oregon Bridge Delivery Partners. In 2010, he retired from full time employment and formed Lowe Consulting, LLC and began giving back to the profession by sharing what he had learned about contracting for professional services and managing professional liability issues (PLI). This process began by appearing as a guest speaker on these subjects to senior engineering students at Portland State University, University of Portland, and Oregon State University. He has also addressed these subjects at professional society meetings, public agency training sessions, and webinars. To facilitate getting this information to a wider audience, he wrote and self-published a book entitled “A Guide to Managing Engineering and Architectural Design Services Contracts – What Every Project Manager Needs to Know.”
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Books mentioned in this episode:
Please leave your comments or questions in the section below on how to run and document effective project meetings for Civil Engineers.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success