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Formal Reporting Is An Essential Tool

 By

Jim Cavalluzzi

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Are there merits to formal reporting or is it just a waste of everyone's time?  When reporting is done for the sole purpose of reporting, it usually will become nothing more than a nuisance.  It will become a waste of time and energy, not only for the people who have to write them, but also for those who have to read them.  Eventually they stop being carefully read.  Then, since they are no longer being carefully read, they will cease to become carefully written, and thus, lose their importance and often times are abandoned altogether.  The typical argument against formal reporting is that it allows much more time to get the actual work done; and isn't that what we're all about anyway?  Though on the surface this may appear to be rational, in the long run it will severely undermine your ability to perform up to management's expectations.  Formal reporting is a proven stopgap against all the things that stand in the way of success.  They may seem tedious and unnecessary to some, but they are an important and useful tool in today's fast paced business environment.

MONITOR YOUR WORK

Effective project reporting is an invaluable tool for keeping management up to date on what is happening in their departments and a great source of pertinent information for relaying progress to upper management.  Not only does it create an opportunity to get hard facts, but it is a good means of keeping those facts at hand and in one convenient location.  Reports facilitate the continuous monitoring of departmental workloads.  This makes it much easier to assign new projects while balancing current work.  By continually monitoring workloads you will have the ability to adjust staff and budgets accordingly.  How can you tell what your budget concerns are if you do not have an accurate handle on the progress of your workload?  These reports are an efficient means by which to judge the effectiveness of an individual as well, affording a simply way to discover dead ends, bottlenecks, and misdirection before they get to far out of bounds.

AVOID REINVENTING THE WHEEL

Formal status reports work as a log or record of past endeavors which is useful in several ways.  It keeps us from reinventing the wheel by providing detailed documentation of the reasons something may not have succeeded or been applicable in the past.  They are quite useful when you run across a problem that seems to have occurred before.  You can go back over your notes and reports to determine what was previously attempted, both successfully and otherwise.  I have worked places where the same ideas seemed to pop up every few years, (usually when a new manager is in place), I could then bring forward valid reasons for determining whether or not the project should be undertaken.  Then you can check to see if circumstances have changed or if the controls are no longer in place.  When reviewing a project that may not have been feasible previously, It allows us to save a significant amount of time by highlighting technology that did not exist before, but now just might make the project goals attainable.  These reports are also a wonderful template for projects that are "similar to" work we have performed successfully in the past and, therefore, can be a great time saver as well as helping to prevent us from running into any of the brick walls or pitfalls we may have encountered earlier.

OPTIMIZE YOUR EFFORTS

Accountability is another practical use for formal reporting.  I myself discovered a long time ago that we are really capable of doing much more than we thought we were.  By pushing your employees forward they too will accomplish much more.  If you give someone a month to do something that should take two weeks, it will take a month.  Likewise, if you give someone a month to do two months worth of work they often will get about six weeks of work done.  What would you rather see accomplished in a month; two weeks work or six weeks work?  It is rather easy to say you have too much to do; it is quite another to prove it on paper.  Some individuals need that little push now and then to keep them on track while others may need to be reined in from time to time.  Requiring employees to keep a log of project events causes them to review project status and to develop contingencies.  You really don't want to wait until the project is at its deadline to find out that it is far from complete and worse yet, over budget.  Similarly you shouldn't wait until review time to admonish someone for past mistakes, when you can easily minimize or avoid that damage by promptly addressing them now.  It is much wiser to slow the train before it jumps the track.  This accountability allows us to keep those small or undesirable projects in the spotlight and progressing smoothly.  By staying on top of these projects we will have the ability to reprioritize while it is still useful to do so and we can readily put a stop to those projects that eventually get mired down or offer diminishing returns. 

EVALUATE

Carefully written reports are handy at employee evaluation time.  They are an excellent source of past accomplishments as well as a valuable record of the progress made in meeting assigned goals, and not just for an individual employee, but for the department as a whole.  These reports will help to define the strengths and weaknesses of your department or of an individual.  They will help to expose those areas that may require improvement.  Since priorities within companies are often changing, formal reports afford management a means of determining if a project should be shelved or if additional resources should be assigned.  They remove the emotion from a manager's assessment of an employee’s performance.  You will be hard pressed to find better evidence of an employee's worth than what is outlined in their project reports.

DISSEMINATE

Yet another good argument in favor of formal reporting is the dissemination of information.  Whether you need to update the rest of your department, the whole organization, or the public sector; formal reports are a valuable source of relevant information and often times this information is useful to others inside your company.  One highly overlooked asset to these reports is the opportunity to mine information and ideas from other people.  often times when you hit a wall there is nothing better than a different point of view to get you back on track and formal reporting is an informal style of brainstorming.  These records are a perfect asset in determining future quotes and estimates.  There have been numerous occasions when I have been able to go back and get costs for fixtures, equipment, services, and the like.  The truly wonderful thing is that these numbers are real, not guesses, and they are of items that are actually working in your facilities and meeting your needs.  They simply need to be adjusted for inflation and the current state of your economy. 

MAKE THEM USEFUL

Status reports are a good thing, but you need to keep them simple and to the point.  It is a lot of wasted time if people are reading and writing reports just because they are required to.  Don't put it off until the last minute and just slap together some meaningless pages loaded with mindless rambling; take the time to create a document that will benefit everyone in your organization.  Try to keep in mind the real reasons you are reporting and attempt to make them as useful as possible.  Make them a great outline of your current activities while documenting an invaluable reference for the future.  Taking the time to write those reports may seem tedious and time consuming, formal reporting, if done with the purpose with which it is intended, is an essential tool for any business and well worth the effort.


About the Author

Mr. Cavalluzzi is the founder and owner of CONSOLUTE, LLC engineering support and consulting services providing site search, industrial, manufacturing and design engineering support. His extensive background in engineering dates back over 30 years and includes the robotics, automotive, aerospace, metals and plastics industries.

Visit them at: Consolute, LLC – Engineering and Consulting Services



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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-12-05 06:51:41 in Business Articles

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