Just like a birthday or wedding anniversary, there are a number of events that occur annually. It is important to remember these yearly occurrences and how to uniquely prepare for them. What if someone forgot to buy a birthday cake or significant other did not stop to buy a dozen roses? Certain individuals would be left disappointed and the event would not be a successful one.

While in association management the items and requirements of such events would differ from sweets and foliage, there are critical things to remember when preparing for recurrent meetings. It is important to create a list of what is required to ensure that all items are remembered and aligned. This comprehensive list is called a Critical Path.

What is a Critical Path and How Can it be Adapted to Plan Board Meetings?

A critical path is, by definition, a path that connects the tasks in a process which are required to be completed for subsequent work to start or which take the greatest amount of time for completion and that provides an estimate of the duration of the entire process.1 Therefore, for a project or event to be successful, each task must be completed in a timely and specific order. While this definition is better suited when planning an event, I believe that board meetings can be planned and conceptualized in a similar way. Meetings also require specific tasks before another one can occur.

Here is an example:

Book Flights for Meeting 3-4 months before Board Members
Invite Guests (i.e. auditor, external consultant) 3 months before Association Administrator
Confirm Meeting Attendance 3 months before Invited Guests
Ask Board Liaisons to Prepare Committee Updates 2 months before Association Administrator
Confirm Final Hotel Accommodations 1 month before Association Administrator
Board Liaisons to Submit Updates 3 weeks before Board Liaisons
Start Drafting Meeting Agenda 3 weeks before Association Administrator
Meeting Agenda Draft to Chair 2 weeks before Association Administrator
Chair to Approve Agenda 1 weeks before Board President
Ship Any Items to Meeting Site 5 business days before Association Administrator
Send Agenda to Board Members 5 business days before Association Administrator
Reminder of Board Meeting 1 day before Association Administrator
Day of Board Meeting May 28, 2017
Send Board Meeting Evaluation 1 business day after Association Administrator
Complete Board Meeting Evaluation 1 week after Board Members

(A more detailed outline of a portion of this timeline and what do to following an association board meeting can be found on my previous blog Preparing for Association Board Meetings)

As you can see, many of the tasks require completion before the next tasks in line can begin. For example, before the association administrator can distribute the agenda to all board members, it must first be sent and approved by the chair.

Why Create a Critical Path and How Can it be Adapted for Specific Meetings?

By creating a critical path, it allows you to visualize what needs to be completed in one concise list. It clearly indicates all the deadlines which can be transferred to your calendar and reminders set accordingly. By following the designated deadlines for each unique meeting, you are less likely to forget important items, especially since recurrent meetings have different purposes and goals. The table I provided above is merely a skeleton that you can adapt for each specific meeting. For instance, the board meeting immediately following an association’s yearend will require different materials than the board meeting that precedes the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of members.

Take the meeting before the AGM, for example. At this in-person board meeting, there are specific topics to discuss and materials to handout. These items will differ from other meetings as they will relate directly to the AGM and the transitioning of directors. You will need to remember to ship board member “thank you” gifts, prepare AGM notes assigned for specific roles, and obtain necessary legal documents requiring a signature. As long as the appropriate tasks of this meeting are adapted in to your critical path, it should run smoothly.

Who Benefits and are there Any Downsides?

Critical paths benefit both the association management team and board members alike. They allow for the association staff to remain organized and aware of critical deadlines. This in turn allows for board members to be well informed of their timelines and tasks. As a result, both parties are in sync and can enter the meeting knowing that there was a process in place to ensure a successful meeting.

While it is easy to see the advantages of following a critical path, there are certain things that you need to be mindful of. It is easy to become too reliant on lists. It is possible for agenda items to change last minute or new tasks to arise. When these changes are first introduced, it is important to update the path immediately so that they are not forgotten.

As you can see, a critical path is not only essential when planning an event, but can be a great guide when planning a successful board meeting. If you find that you are continually forgetting to include certain items year after year, try creating a critical path. You may be surprised how effortlessly your recurrent meetings come together.

1Critical Path [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved May 4, 2017, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/criticalpath.