Re: Taking notes, once more with feeling

Subject: Re: Taking notes, once more with feeling
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 30 Jul 1996 10:39:27 PDT

The chasm between the "I'm not a secretary, dammit!" camp and the "Yeah,
sure, whatever" camp partly lies in the assumption on what note-taking

I'm sure that no one will be surprised that *my* note-taking results
in highly editorialized minutes. I do not bother writing down people's
words. I lounge around, sometimes for hours, until something significant
is said, then I make a note of it. While I wait for something to happen,
I habitually compare the current schedule to the previous schedule, and
calculate my schedule-slip metrics: slip (in weeks), slip velocity (in
weeks of slippage per week), and slip acceleration (increase in slip
velocity per week). This provides some amusement during the long droning

Such minutes involve little of the actual labor that would be required by
a transcription. No one would read a transcription, anyway; these people
aren't stupid.

My point is that, while a transcription is a neutral document, and could
thus be prepared by anyone with the necessary secretarial skills, minutes
involve condensation. Condensation requires that you decide what is
important enough to leave in. Such picking and choosing means that the
minutes are an instrument of policy and propaganda. No one with any sense
hands such duties over to a disgruntled employee (though I admit that there
are plenty of idiots out there who do so).

Properly done, the minutes help pull the team together, increase upper
management's commitment to the project, give other departments a clear
idea of what's required of them, and make the person publishing the
minutes look like a strategic thinker, team player, and candidate for
raises and promotions.

All this requires that something happen at the meetings, at least once
in a while. Many meetings can be dispensed with in a sentence or two,
depending on how politely you wish to phrase, "Nothing was decided, and
everyone was glad when it was over."

The trick is to end up on projects in which interesting things happen.
If you ever get shanghaied into doing extensive minutes for a useless
meeting, go to your boss and point to the big stack of work on your
plate and say, "Do you want me to take notes, or do you want this stuff
done? These damn minutes are going to slip my big project by X weeks."

(Here's how you calculate X: Add the time it takes to attend the meeting
to the time it takes to create, edit, and publish the minutes. Multiply
this figure by twice the expected life of the meeting, since projects
slip. If you're in a big company, multiply it by four. If you don't
believe me, keep all copies of schedules, and calculate slip velocity
and slip acceleration for yourself.)

-- Robert
Robert Plamondon, President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139

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