Too many reports, too little time

Lesson Learned #8

When we work for an organization we always look closely at how managers plan, execute the plan and then report on the results. We’ve learned over time that the one area where there is never a shortage of information is in the reporting. Planning can be hit and miss, execution is pretty adhoc or missing (as we’ve discussed before), but there is rarely a shortage of reports. In many cases there are too many reports.

We aren’t exactly sure why this is the case but we suspect it is because it’s much easier to create a report than it is to eliminate a report. Many new managers will create or modify a report for their own purposes but they are reluctant to kill off existing reports for fear that someone, somewhere, needs the information. Distributions lists are often quite wide and sometimes there are a few pieces of information on each report that is useful so it’s ultimately easier to simply add to the pile. It can also sometimes be easier to build a new report than to navigate a request through the IT work queue. Over time this creates an obvious problem as there is simply too much information.

We see a few key common problems with reports:

  • Many reports are “status” reports. They tell a manager the current status of something but they aren’t very helpful in causing the manager to do anything about it. This is often the case when managers are copied on a distribution list but don’t really need the information to do their own job effectively.
  • Many reports are too late after-the-fact. Managers are very busy people generally and the longer it takes to get them information, the less useful the information is to them. It’s simply hard to back track when there are new and present problems and issues that need attention.
  • Many reports have too much information. Reports often don’t “cut-to-the-chase” quick enough and really focus on the few key indicators that a manager is supposed to manage. – Ideally a report highlights a variance to a plan of some kind. The value to the manager is that the variance provides a focus for problem solving. If the plan isn’t solid or bought into, then the variance loses it’s usefulness and doesn’t trigger any response or action on the part of the manager.

A manager’s time is a valuable commodity in any business or organization. Reports can be very time consuming, and as discussed they can cause a lot of valuable time to be wasted or to be used ineffectively. It’s worth periodically reviewing the value of the reports that get generated. In our experience, you usually need fewer, more focused and more timely reports. The benefit for managers is that is will reduce clutter, free up time, and make the reporting far more useful.