The Art of the Recap

If a meeting occurs, but nobody sends a recap, did the meeting happen?

We have blogged about the importance of a meeting recap, but spoke more of the practice of using meeting recaps and less of the art of creating a good recap. We do have internal guidelines that we follow, but through our mentoring process we also attempt to build expertise beyond the template and guidelines. This is my attempt to share some of that company lore.

The goal of a meeting recap is to ensure that (1) everyone in the meeting left with the same outcomes, and (2) everyone is clear on what their actions are.

First, let’s discuss what doesn’t work: a transcription of the meeting. Even the most effective meeting is littered with non sequiturs and debates that take a circuitous journey to the outcome.  A transcription that captures all of that creates a large, unconsumable mess. It is a great example of documenting for defense and not success: the important information is afloat in a sea of unnecessary words.

What does work is a highly summarized, numbered list of salient points. Everything you need to know included, and everything you don’t left out. How do you do this well? You include as little as possible in your recap. Remember: anything beyond what is absolutely necessary is noise that will just distract from the aforementioned absolutely necessary information.

Here’s what should go in there:
  1. Decisions
  2. Actions
  3. Maybe, just maybe, some small discretionary additions so the story flows properly.

The Playbook

  1. Kickoff with a request that everyone review the recap and alert you if any of it is not correct.
    “Thanks for participating. Please review the notes below and let me know if I missed or misconstrued anything.”
  2. Build your recap using clear numbered statements, each a single sentence.
  3. If a decision was made during the meeting, include it in the recap:
    “2. Team agreed that internal interface to Skynet will not be secured as it is inside the firewall.”
    “Team” might be a group name or – even better – a person’s name.
    Hopefully the decision was driven by an options analysis.
  4. If an action is required, it should be included in the recap and the full name of the action owner bolded, including a target date, if possible.
    “5. Dan Hughes will update the logical design document by Friday, August 29.”
  5. If needed, a minimum of additional detail can be added to numbered items as indented sub items:
    “7. Team agreed that internal interface to Skynet will not be secured, because:
    – It is inside the firewall.
    – Skynet is never going to be self-aware.”
  6. Finally, sprinkle in additional commentary, only if you think it is absolutely necessary to make the recap clear. Typically this is context setting.
    “1. We reviewed the concerns related to time travel.”

Trust us, good meeting recaps are rife with benefits:
  1. People are more likely to read them.
  2. You will be perceived as more effective.
  3. Your carefully negotiated resolutions are more likely to stick.
  4. Your hand cramping will reduce (although brain cramps may increase).
Finally, never forget that a meeting recap is not a “system of record” for information, but a point in time communication to ensure clarity and agreement after a meeting. Any important information should be recast into the appropriate document for posterity!
Interested in streamlining your architecture processes or documents? Contact us! We’d love to help.
Dan Hughes
Dan Hughes is a principal consultant and partner at Systems Flow, Inc., where he leads the technology services practice. He has 20 years of software engineering experience spanning a broad range of technologies and techniques. Startup to enterprise, he has launched, managed, and executed all aspects of both product and enterprise life cycle, delivering complex, enterprise-scale architectures for clients in the public and private sector, in industries ranging from banking and insurance to international development. Dan holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. For more details, please visit Dan's LinkedIn profile
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