Prevent Memory Loss

Realize the benefits of documentation by taking meeting minutes

by Gary Knapp

All quality personnel can benefit from a good habit many successful people live by—note-taking and documenting meeting minutes. I use a spiral notebook everyday to write notes during meetings, customer or supplier visits, and audits. My notes include the who, what, when, where and why of an event, with the why sometimes including specification when it’s not obvious. These notes are eventually used to document decisions.

For decades, I have practiced this behavior, and my logs have helped protect the companies I have worked for—not to mention my memory. I cannot remember every detail, and even if I could, my memory is not as substantive a record as a log or meeting minute. My notes include what was said or decided, and who said it, made the decision and agreed to it. These records have been invaluable when company leadership has faced warranty claims, lawsuits and past practice changes.

For example, Aug. 25, 2009, was a decision day at a past employer. Our company was visited by a primary customer to discuss rework—specifically, weld repairs. Another customer, who was also a tier one supplier to our visiting primary customer, had reported that we could not perform weld repair, which placed numerous parts in jeopardy of the scrap bin.

Through documentation of customer discussions, reviews of weld-repaired part samples and our customer’s weld standard, we were able to show we had approval for weld repair. In the end, all quarantined parts were released for use.

With notes about the decision making, the customer’s standard was implemented within the engineering files. Work instructions were developed and revised to refer to the standard and hyperlink to the electronic standard file copy. This helped close the gap between a fully integrated documentation system and memories that were not strong enough to remind everyone what was decided: that weld repair was a valid and approved practice.

Another example involved a product that was returned to our company due to rust (Table 1). The potential sales-value loss totaled nearly $18,000. Through the returned goods approval process, it was determined the rust damage was not the fault of our processes. Yet, this determination did not return the $18,000 to our earned income. Through a detailed, documented review process, however, our customer agreed its trucking company and warehouse were at fault. The trucking company was obligated to pay us for our lost sales value because all returned product was scrapped.

Table 1

Whether your quality management system (QMS) includes a meeting minute log, a customer telephone log or other forms of documentation, a spiral notebook is a simple solution for recording short-term events to prevent long-term memory loss. This documentation can then be entered electronically into the QMS, or scanned and saved as a QMS record.

Help yourself and your company by practicing this beneficial behavior. You never know when you and your company may be glad you did.

Gary Knapp is a senior quality engineer at a stamping plant. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in College Park. Knapp is an ASQ senior member and an ASQ-certified quality manager, mechanical inspector, technician, systems auditor, auditor, engineer and systems lead auditor.

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