Using a digital voice recorder in digital project management meetings has proved invaluable time and time again for me when compared to the old skool method of note-taking with pen and paper.
The problem with note-taking
Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to being a Digital Project Manager I never go anywhere without my notepad and pen, despite it being a cheap notepad and having never actually owned a pen like a proper grown up.
However there are just some digital project management meetings where I get back to the office, look at my notes and realise they no longer make sense as they did in the meeting, but look like a cross between that guy’s tattoos in Prison Break and the scribbles on the wall of a mental case who didn’t leave his room for twenty years before being separated from society.
The digital project management meetings I’m talking about are the long ones where you’re required to understand your client’s entire business model, current technical and business workflows and rules, design brief and the oodles of new requirements they have – and all in the space of one or two hours.
Now perhaps I’m just useless at note-taking, but the fact is I just can’t remember all that information word for word and got a little scared when I had that inevitable moment we all have from time to time where your eyes glaze over, you see people talking, you nod profusely, but you’re literally hearing nothing.
It was moments like this that resulted in me buying a digital voice recorder – ladies and gentleman, I present to you Excalibur!
The digital voice recorder solution
Due to my note-taking being not great, the primary reason I use a digital voice recorder in detailed digital project management meetings is that I want to focus 100% on the meeting and I’m not senior enough to have a PA.
In all seriousness, when I’m talking to a client about their business, project and requirements I genuinely want to immerse myself into the process and really get down and dirty in the details, for two main reasons:
- I know off the back of the meeting I will have to probably create a sitemap, functional specification and creative brief and I will need to get the details right
- I want the meeting to flow smoothly and be an organic conversation. I find this type of meeting to be brilliantly productive and invariably ends up with both parties getting excited about the digital project
Once the meeting is over, I press ‘Stop’ and head back to the office. I know all that detailed goodness is captured and will be there for me when I need to sit down and write some documents or brief the team – in fact, the team can also listen to the meeting themselves – double efficiency bonus points!
I won’t drone on much more about the why, needless to say, the number of times I’ve sat with headphones writing a big functional specification and literally enjoyed capturing a complex piece of functionality perfectly, first time – high bloody five!
Alternative recording solutions
Of course, nowadays digital voice recorders look a little archaic and alternative solutions are available for all you smartphone and tablet people.
These range from simple voice recorders to awesome apps that let you record a meeting, type notes, draw diagrams and even highlight the notes and drawings you made in sync with the playback. A few decent ones for the iPad are:
However, I did try using these and personally found it a little more cumbersome than pen and paper and also made me come across slightly detached from the client, like typing away on a laptop does – but maybe this type of solution will work for you.
Navigating the Excalibur unveiling
Although the theory and practice of recording digital project meetings are solid, it’s still a little bit of a taboo when you mention the idea to a client, and to be honest, I’m not surprised – it’s not exactly standard practice and there are confidentiality concerns.
But I find, as always with clients, honesty is the best policy and simply explaining that you want to concentrate 100% on the meeting itself and not note-taking, and that it will ensure you capture all the fine detail and enable more efficient briefing and digital project documents, you’ll generally get agreement.
In fact clients tend to fall into three camps when they see Excalibur, the:
- The happy and understanding type who say “Ooo good idea!”
- The tentative but accommodating type who say something along the lines of “Ok, but I won’t see this posted on YouTube will I?” while laughing nervously
- The very freaked out type who simply say they do not want to be recorded
The first two types of clients end up not thinking about the recorder 30 seconds into the meeting, and the third type, if you’re smart, you’ll identify before even being silly enough to get the recorder out.
But in case you’re not too smart (like me, trust me I learnt the hard way) here’s a few handy tips on when to suggest recording and when not too.
The dos and don’ts of recording
- Be completely honest about the fact you’d like to record the meeting, even if it’s a conference call
- Make the point to mention you will be discreet with the recording
- Name your recordings semantically so you don’t have to trawl through “untitled.mp3” only to find out it wasn’t the meeting you needed after all
- Use your instinct to determine if it would feel appropriate to get the recorder out
- Try to record pre-sales meetings and conflict resolution meetings
- Record meetings where it isn’t necessary e.g. budget discussions
- Ever use recordings to try and settle digital project disputes
- Send recordings to non-employees
- Covertly record, ever – it’s just plain wrong and illegal I think
But come on, I’m probably just a bit rubbish when it comes to note taking, and because it’s just not always appropriate to record digital project management meetings…
…what are your tips for note taking in digital project management meetings?