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My question for this discussion is this... what's the best way to seek and obtain approvals (sign-offs) for items that require them, such as:

- Project Charters
- Scope documents
- Meeting minutes
- Roll-out plans

My latest challenge has to do with meeting minutes. After every meeting, I put together the minutes and include action items that are assigned to team members. I always include due dates and when I distribute the minutes to the team, I ask them to review the minutes and let me know if there was something I missed or was incorrect. I tell them that if I don't get a response, I will go with the minutes as is. I'm finding that this is not enough and wonder if they're even read. Should I change my wording to something like... 'after you review the minutes, do you approve or disapprove?', and require a response? Does anyone send reminder messages to task owners, such as the day before a task is due?


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Unless there's a strict rigor for approving minuted actions (e.g. legal, contractual, sensitivity, a pharma project ... ) why send out a request for review and approval? Assuming you have a good communications plan and a RACIS (responsibilities assignment) then simply action the appropriate stakeholders. Anything further is marginally productive IMHO.

Now - why bother with minutes at all? As some others have intimated there are good collaborative tools out there where one can record decisions, surveys, and actions or tickets. Examples include SharePoint and Wiki based such as Trac.
Approvals can be a challenge depending on what needs to be approved. For meeting minutes I prefer to follow a rather less stringent route as long as I have a trail of what must happen and when must it happen, I then schedule reminders on critical items.

As for the Charters and other critical documents, I recently found out that it works well if I workshop the documents (either in a boardroom or online using Web technologies) with all parties concerned. In that manner I get everyone's participation. Even if I leave them with the document afterwards, I would have highlighted some important points from the workshop. It then becomes easier to get approval thereafter since no one can claim to have not seen/gone through the document. It makes it easier to also just request an email confirmation afterwards.
I like to use MS SharePoint services for this if the organization already has an enterprise license.

I can post documents to folders that are created already for different stages of projects and alerts can be sent out to all project stakeholders. The setup of users and groups per project is an one time strenuous activity, but it pays off.

One can also integrate a task allocation and response view using the latest 2007 SharePoint server. For example, if you want someone to confirm that they own the action item and if they understood the requirement, they can respond to your task with notes.
I will sometimes send a task via Outlook with the task and the due date. I can put a reminder on it for the day before in order to give people time. Many times I make phone calls on more critical action items.

I would like to express my views on handling meeting minutes.I also faced similar situations in earlier meetings in my project. The best approach I learnt in a hardway is as follows
1. Make a note of the action items and meeting minutes on a sheet of paper during the meeting
2. Have 10~15 mins allocated at the end of the meeting
3.Read aloud the entire meeting minutes along with actions items and respective owners to the entire participants
4. Get their concurrence ,make changes in the meeting itself and get signoff from the team on the paper

Circulate the electronic copy after the meeting and in the next meeting as a first step review the pending action items and formulate the revised plan.
The extra time spent at the end of the meeting will be fruitfull and will create a moral obligation.

Hi Paul.
You are right. The minutes are too often not read. Review of minutes is time consuming and takes away from "doing the work."

To solve the problem, a strong communications plan that includes a chain of responsibility and a remediation plan is critical. This needs to be created alongside the project plan and agreement (approvals) obtained.

In your project plan, approvals should be identified as a milestone task. These carry risk potential. (If warranted, the level of risk should be prioritized - i.e., critical path milestones carry greater risk). Risks that carry a certain value are escalated.

Failure to respond carries an implied project risk and escalation will imply consequences. You should achieve 100% compliance once this is implemented.

For Charter, Scope and Roll-out plans, I have been most successful having a brief sit-down meeting with the Project Sponsor to discuss the content of each document. I usually get a signature right then, or if there are edits requested, I make them and leave docs to be signed in Sponsor's INBOX. (If you have trouble getting these back, track them as "open" in your Action Items Listing!)

For meeting minutes, I don't seek approval, although I do ask for feedback if I missed something or mis-stated something. My minutes are bullets, not formal. I put the Current Open Action Items in the minutes and that is the main piece of information I want the team to see. At every team meeting, we review the previous Open Action Items. If no meeting, I send the Open Action Items out to the whole team after I have gotten statuses and updated the listing.

My most successful approach has been to use the Action Items Listing as a team tool. I email it to everyone, and keep everyone in the loop. It seems the "peer pressure" of having "incomplete" next to your name is often motivation enough for people to make it a priority to get that action item completed. I hope you find the same results =)

Sonja from Tallahassee, Florida, USA
Great stuff guys! I appreciate all the feedback and will look to apply the techniques mentioned here. I will be sure to share my experiences with you all.

Since most my work is in the government sector. For major documents ie: Charters, design and Milestone documents I present the documents at the sponsors meeting (which are presecheduled reoccurring meeting through the life of the project where major documents, change orders and milestone documents are presented). I give the sponsors10 days in which to review and provide feedback and place the signature of the document on the agenda for the following meeting.

If feedback is received during the 10 days which makes for major changes to the documents, then I represent the documents highlighting the changes, and reset the comments due date. If there are no major changes received I present the final document at the predefined sponsors meeting at which time the document is passed around the room and signatures are obtained.

I beleive in obtaining formal signatures to major documents and not using an approve or disapprove button on an email. By having them sit in a room it leads to discussion and cohesiveness within the group. If because of the nature of the project the sponsors are remote, then I set a "chain of signatures" and pass the document from sponsor to sponsor with each subsequent signature builing on the last.


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