A Note About Notes
As a business analyst, I'm sure you spend a lot of time in meetings, and I'm sure you take a lot of notes. But are you getting the most out of your notes? That depends on what you do with them after the meeting.
We all have our system of taking and processing notes, but it's especially important for a business analyst to be organized. Missing a key piece of information from an end user, or not following up on an important assumption, could mean the difference between success and the drawing board. It's important to reserve some time toward the end of the day to process your notes. When you do, here's what you're looking for.
Keeping It All Straight
- Action Items: One of the easiest things to find are action items. In fact, the best note-takers have shorthand for capturing action items during a meeting. That way, in the meeting recap, it’s easier to identify owners and due dates. Some people keep their action items inline with their notes; however, I recommend you copy them into their own separate section so you have a clean list to work with. Do the same with the rest of the following gems to be found in your notes.
- Issues: Issues are a broad category of items that need to be resolved. Think of any issue as a deliverable that takes at least one (and probably more) Action Item to resolve. Issues work like Action Items during the recap of the meeting, in that you’ll identify an owner and a due date. The difference between the two is that the management of an Issue is a bit more sophisticated; the owner of an Issue must create an Action Item plan and finally bring the Issue to resolution.
- Decisions: Decisions are a type of issue that has a wide range of scale and complexity. A Decision might be as simple as asking the meeting leader to make a call. Or, it could be as complex as formally framing up the decision, gathering information, doing some analysis, and presenting in front of a decision board. When you process your notes, determine whether this decision deserves attention now, or if it can wait until later.
- Assumptions: Assumptions are a type of issue that are relatively easy to resolve, given you have access to the right people. Assumptions are a bit insidious, so it’s important that you catch them and label them for what they are. Many times, assumptions are presented as matters of fact–when in actuality, they’re not. Anytime you’re presented with second-hand information, or people are talking “on behalf of” another person or group, label it as an assumption that needs to be vetted.
- Risks: Risks are a type of issue that has an element of uncertainty or probability. Risks are typically associated with a negative impact; however, they can also have a positive impact (these are sometimes referred to as Opportunities). Once characterized (i.e., probability, impact, and detectability have been determined) the first decision to make is whether to mitigate the risk (take action to improve probability, impact, and/or detectability). If so, construct your Issue into a mitigation plan.
- Recommendations: Recommendations are a type of issue that is tricky, like Assumptions. In many cases, a Recommendation will appear like an Action item, because the source of the Recommendation assumes authority they don’t have. For instance, you might have an ambitious but hardly-impacted stakeholder insist that a certain requirement be added to your requirements document. In their mind, it’s an Action Item, but in reality, it’s probably something you should run by your highly-impacted stakeholders first. The very first Action Item in your Recommendation is to evaluate whether to take the Recommendation.
- FAQs: Sometimes, during a meeting, you’ll get a question asked and answered (without contention). If you feel it’s a question other people might have, or if you’ve actually heard this same question asked in previous meetings and encounters, you may want to record it as a FAQ (Frequently Asked Question).
In many cases, you only have one shot to capture information. Whether it's a casual encounter with one of your end users or a phase gate meeting with lots of stakeholders, it's important that you make good use of the information that's being shared. Take some time at the end of every day to process your notes. There will invariably be hidden gems there like assumptions that need to be vetted and recommendations that look like action items. Get this all sorted out before anyone starts taking action. Be careful, diligent, and organized–in other words–be a good business analyst.