“Minuting” Documents

9ecd376e5371efaef9aad9bc9143aed8_XLI never cease to be amazed at how much paper is on my desk and inundating my project files despite living in this “paperless” era.

Post-Its aside (which invariably disappear when you need them most) one of the key problems that many of us encounter is how to keep track of updates and other various notations on activities/events with a paper document.

Now admittedly there are organizations that employ complex document management systems that do, indeed, scan in such noxious pieces of paper for storage, retention, forwarding and annotation – but unless you are lucky/unlucky enough to be burdened with such a system, and haven’t elected to burn out your own scanner and fill up your local disk drives – the question remains:  how do you annotate documents and “circulate” them for action within your team/organization?

The military dealt with this problem through a process called “minuting” – where numbered notations were made on the face of a document that addressed to-dos to individuals within the team/organization, and their responses until – ultimately – the document was “retired” to central records for retention/storage.

How It’s Done

Every original document starts off as the original minute #1.

Subsequent minutes are numbered successfully (2, 3, 4 etc) and follow the same general format:

<#> <Addressee>
<minute text – instruction, note, action, etc>

Often people will cross out the number on the previous minute – so you can readily find the next one that is “current” on the page.

They can also be placed pretty much anywhere on the page – wherever there is an open space to make your next item.


Sample document with “minutes”.

Adding a “Note to File” (NTF)

A special “addressee” of a minute is the file/document itself – the NOTE TO FILE – where you can append notes and general information/history into your minuiting records.


Minutes provide a quick means to send out action items and have a traceable history for non-electronic documents – without the mess (and potential loss) of Post-Its or other attachments.


It’s critical that everyone “respects” an original document – recognizing that it may be the only existing history of actions and events associated with the original subject.

As a result, not only should people keep track of whatever “minuted” documents they have in circulation – they have to be cognizant that it may be necessary to retain the original document after it’s been circulated and acted upon to retain the record of what happened.

Now in some cases this is the time that you may want to scan the final draft – and then retain an electronic image of the final document within your electronic document repository.

While this is a good strategy for long term record keeping – you then need to also consider either the destruction or, at least isolation of that original document (lest someone add additional minutes) resulting in a variance between the electric archived copy and the original (which may start an all new round of circulation).


Ultimately this was a technique best used within small teams – and remains so today.  Consider its inclusion as a tool/technique within your project management communication strategy – but pay attention to that long term retention plan.

Author: Stephen Holton, PMP, CISSP, SSGB, ITIL, CD

After completing over twelve years service in the Canadian Armed Forces, Stephen moved to private industry where he was employed as a Director of Information Technology, Director of Operations and CIO for a number of private sector companies before finally electing to become an independent consultant in 2000. Since then he’s served as a management consultant, project/program manager and business analyst/solution architect in a number of industries and organizations - including a big-5 consulting firm. These industries and organizations have included the airline, railway, telecommunications and banking industries, the Canadian and US Governments, as well as mandates in Brazil and Bermuda. Presently Steve lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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