What’s a Status Report Anyway?

Status reports — one of the most misused resources in the corporate world.  An exercise in justifying a 40-hour week…at least that’s how I’ve known them for the countless years I’ve spent in the bowels of windowless cube farms, churning out lard for the starving bureaucratic machine.  Just another fruitless endeavor that has no real value other than to mark off another check on my weekly bullshit task list.  Did I ever assume my boss read them?  Was I ever under the illusion that what I had to say was really that important to anyone?  Maybe in the beginning, but the Cube Farm has a way a crushing that I’m-a-beautiful-and-unique-snowflake complex.  Just shut your mouth and don’t cause trouble.

A Brave New Model

Now I have my own Division.  Now things are different.  Now you can take your tired old business models and shove them.  WE know what we’re doing too.  It’s about bleeding every ounce of value out of our team’s efforts — optimizing resources.  Status reports may be mandatory, and even if they aren’t, they still hold value if done right.  So, the question is,  how do we maximize the value we get from them?  If I were a bit more rebellious, I’d call them awareness reports, but that may be a bit avant-garde (at least for now).  Here’s some of our views on status reports:

  1. Stop justifying 40-hour weeks.  I don’t need affirmation that you’re working.  If I don’t know whether you’re working or not, I’m not doing my job.  It may be an original thought, but at Foxtrot we actually trust our team members.  If you put entries like attended meeting, or worked on hardware issues in your report, it will at a minimum get virtually burned and sent straight to the trash — rewrite required.
  2. Tell me something important.  What have you learned this week?  Do you see any risks down the road?  How about opportunities?  At Foxtrot, everyone on our team is expected to think (perhaps a dangerous notion to your standard command-and-control bureaucracy).  Imagine if you can capitalize on the insights of your entire workforce — everyone on the team is an individual knowledge worker.  With every status report comes the chance for you to tell me something I didn’t know, or didn’t see (and that can be a lot).
  3. Keep them brief (guess what — this is usually not a problem).  Know your audience.  What is important to the customer?  to the project?  to the Division?  Coincidentally the acronym C.I.A. is a good guide: Concise; Important; Audience.
  4. Stop ignoring the fact that knowing how to write well is essential.  Why is it that after we leave school it’s suddenly okay to forget how to write, like it’s Calculus or something.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could have gotten far in school without knowing how to write.  But hey, once you get over that whole school thing, you can forget how to write because no one will read your crap anyway.  Leave it to the managers, at least they can do that well (maybe).
  5. Use a standard template and a central repository where reports can be uploaded. In part, this facilitates consolidation (individual reports can be consolidated into project reports which can be consolidated into subsequently higher-level reports).  I don’t want your status report in an email and I don’t want you coming into my office and verbally reporting your status and above all, I do not want to be sitting in a status meeting to hear everyone’s status (I’ll save my meeting air strike for another blog entry).  A good status report might be the catalyst for a meeting, but meetings should never take the place of writing status reports (unless you have a great stenographer and if you do, you’re probably not paying them enough!).
  6. If you are the project lead or manager or anyone else who is responsible for reading reports, read the reports.  If I have to tell you this, you’re a lazy slob.  Reading reports is the least to can do to show your team that you respect their work.  If you have too many reports to read, then it’s a problem with your business structure — reorganize.  Split the project up into functional areas and have a team lead in charge of each area (“in charge” means reading the team’s reports).
  7. Don’t censor anything (at least not internally).  At Foxtrot, in addition to THINKing, everyone on our team is expected to SPEAK, and this includes writing the honest, nasty truth in status reports.

Everything is connected.  Status reports are just one piece in the bigger puzzle of information management and running an elite team of shock troopers.  Status reports are valuable sources of intelligence and should be treated as such.  And, not to belabor the obvious, but we should point out that they are also a means to Cover Your Ass.  It’s hard to argue the facts about the past without any written records.

If you think this entry is trash, or offensive, or maybe, possibly useful…good, at least you are THINKing.  Now get back to work and inject some passion into the corporate machine.  Include an excerpt from the Gettysburg Address in your next status report.  See if anyone notices.

If you are interested, here is a sample template we use for our individual status reports (sorry, we’re slaves to Microsoft primarily because of our customers):
» Individual Status Report Template

If you want to learn more about our process, or our Culture of Intelligence, feel free to contact us (see my profile).

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