Thursday, April 5, 2007

April 5, 2007 – It’s in the Game – Information Overload Part 2

An overload of information is like adding Olympic Games traffic to major city rush hour. No one ends up going anywhere. Yesterday we looked at how to reasonably limit the Project Schedule. Today we will look at meeting minutes and messages.

Meeting Minutes. Minutes are extremely important. I recall one project that I transitioned to another project manager where the client immediately started changing things previously agreed to. When asked about it I was able to pull out the meeting minutes and set the record straight. Unfortunately, minutes are usually the first thing dropped when project managers get busy. Sometimes the problem is that too much information is crammed into the minutes. It ends up taking longer to issue them than the meeting took. Here are some tips on handling them better.

1. Just the facts. Minutes are not intended to capture every word everyone says. Skip the discussion points and just record the decisions and action items. Too much detail takes too long and is counter productive. No one is going to read multiple pages of minutes for every meeting they attend.

2. Use a consistent template. Find a format that helps you organize the minutes and encourages you to keep them concise. Blank documents lead to writing paragraphs of information instead of bullet points.

3. Fragments are ok. Unless it is a formal environment it is ok to skimp on full sentences for your bullet points. Use good grammar, but keep it short.

4. Off load. You don’t need to do everything. For team meetings especially, have a different team member take the minutes each week. Train them on what you expect and let them handle it. If you have a team member that is aspiring to be a PM, give more of that responsibility to him/her.

Messages. Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a long voice mail. Pointless emails come in a close second. I’m sure you have received your share of both. You have probably had someone leave you a long voice mail and then follow it up with a mega-email on the same topic. So what is the best way to avoid overload for messages?

1. Pick your platform. Some things are better said than read. Phone should be used to get someone’s attention and get them to call back. If you are leaving someone numbers or other details, email may be the better choice. On voice messages longer than 30 seconds my mind starts to loose focus.

2. Delete and rerecord. If you find that you are starting to ramble or are trying to cram too much information into a voice mail, stop. Delete what you have and start over again. You may even want to rethink your choice of platform.

3. Leaving your number…twice. It seems like the more information someone leaves in a voice mail, the faster they blurt out their phone number. I end up having to listen to the whole message twice just to make sure I captured it correctly. Give your phone number at the beginning of the message, tell them why you called and then leave your number again.

4. Reread your email. Take the time to read what you type. Look for redundancies and excess wording. Re-organize your thoughts if necessary. Shorter emails get read and acted on sooner.

Information is great but too much information can get in the way. Learn the balance and you can increase your odds of winning the game.

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