note-taking

Web projects are becoming increasingly complicated. Whether it’s due to complex feature requirements, cutting-edge technical implementations, or sheer project scale, websites are requiring more work and more manpower to execute at a high level. Not all team-members are available to participate in client discovery sessions and meetings, and it is important that the conversations in those sessions are recorded and the key messages and goals communicated to those unable to attend.

Taking good notes in meetings can be challenging, especially if you are both participating in and transcribing the conversation. Here are the guidelines I use and a few helpful tips for taking excellent notes:

Listen, Record & Clarify

Listen closely and carefully to what is being said, and transcribe as much information as possible. Details are important, and you never know if something you recorded will be useful in the future.

Write with whatever allows you to transcribe as fast as possible, legibly. I take better notes with a pen and sketchbook but have Doctor-level atrocious handwriting, so I have to be diligent about making sure I can read what I wrote the next time I read through my notes.

Context is everything when it comes to notes. Detail context with your notes if there’s the potential for you to forget why something was relevant. Pro tip: there’s always the potential for you to forget why something was relevant.

Clarify any questions you have regarding what is being said. Asking the questions and getting the answers as early as possible ensures a comprehensive understanding of the task at hand. A helpful technique for getting clarification is to use Active Listening.

Organize & Distill

I find it most helpful to organize my notes and distill the information within 24 hours of the meeting. This prevents forgetting any key information or details that could potentially escape my brain over time.

How you organize your notes is up to you. Your communication style will dictate what you feel is most effective, but make sure to check with your team and see if there is a way to structure the information that makes it easier to digest and comprehend. I prefer to structure my notes in the following manner:

1. Summarize the problems being solved by your work.

It is important to touch on the main problems you are solving in one or two sentences. For example:

“The client wants to build a website that is as future-proof as possible. Their current site was built 5 years ago. The current site doesn’t capture the sense of place, space and perspective on their beautiful property and doesn’t convey who they are or tell their story.”

2. List the main goals and objectives for the project.

Project goals can be streamlined and organized into a handful of categories. I try to reduce the goals to a few clear and encompassing points to address. For example:

Goal 1:  Increased Effectiveness of Communication

The client struggles to communicate their message quickly and effectively to their audiences. Their primary goal is to leverage the website to help them communicate and engage well.

Goal 2: Clearer Calls to Action

Conversion is difficult. Their main conversion points are Donations, Referrals, and Job Postings. These interfaces are clunky and unclear, and they want to make it easy for donations and referrals to be made and job postings to be responded to.

3. Dive deeper into the specifics of the site’s needs.

At this point, the reader knows exactly what the problem is and how it can be solved. The information contained in the following sections is specific to the client: Who is their audience? What specific actions do they want users to take on their site? How does the site succeed or fail for these user groups? What colors does the client like? Here’s an example of how I would structure information about an audience:

1. Donor Base

Demographic: 50 - 65% are 60+
Donors are connected through long-term, personal connection. Donors receive a majority of their information through direct mail pieces.

Donors want to know where their money goes. Their main question that needs answering is “What is my impact?” Donors primarily positively receive the answer to this question through personal stories and secondarily through data. Philanthropists are a specific subset of this audience that prefers the numbers over the stories.

Donors need to be able to locate key information: financials, news & reports. An annual outcomes analysis is conducted and shared. The client wants to make the numbers speak and convey a more human and connectable experience.

The primary goal for this audience is to help them make the decision to continue to donate money by keeping them connected and engaged with the results of their generosity.

4. Aggregate the remaining information

There will always be snippets of information that aren’t able to be neatly organized under a specific category or train of thought. Include this information near the topic it refers to or in an additional notes section.

Once you have finished organizing your notes, read through them from top to bottom and make sure there aren’t any details or information you mave have missed or forgotten to include. Once you are satisfied that the notes clearly communicate all points to the reader, publish to the team.