As we grow our company the question of how to insure good communication becomes a relevant topic and, inevitably, the idea of instigating status reports raises its ugly head.

I hate status reports. I believe they are one of the biggest time-wasters in business.  Needless to say, we have banned them at FDS and I think you ought to as well. Let me explain.

The organized sharing of important information is critical for good business.  Technology today, unfortunately, gives us the ability to create much more information than we can consume, thus, success is now much more about WHAT information should be shared and how.

The classic status report (where a person writes down what they did in prose) is like watching a TV infomercial. Infomercials attempt to look like unbiased “information sharing” but they are, of course, just well-scripted commercials. Individuals often like status reports because they can create their own “commercial.” Good news can be embellished and bad news downplayed, if not ignored completely. Some project stats looking bad? The answer is simple. Don’t include those stats in your report!

The classic corporate annual report is a mixed bag. The part that most will review is the numbers. The numbers represent facts and express data that can be compared across peers and with prior performance. I equate this data to the score of a football game. While the score does not reflect the nuances of how you played – it shows clearly if you won or lost.

The remaining prose in annual reports is pretty much marketing fluff. It is not that the information is incorrect; it is just not “balanced.”  The waves of legislation requiring more disclosure have not helped clarity at all. Companies now just go to the opposite extreme and list every possible risk factor imaginable making it impossible to understand the legitimate business risks.

Having trashed the status report let me provide a few alternatives that are much more effective for managing large teams.

Dashboards: Dashboards are great when they are based on hard data and metrics.  A good dashboard drives metric-based goals and provides useful insights.

Email/Phone/Text: If there is an issue or a problem, it should be addressed immediately.  Pick your favorite method…

1x1’s: Managers should have 1x1’s to probe and get insight by asking the hard questions.

Stand-up meetings: Quick meetings to share status are a great way to communicate current status effectively to the group.

Wiki’s and Group Chat: These are great for real time activities, building specifications and issue discussions. Everyone can quickly stay updated on current status and issues.

It is easy to create massive amounts of content and overwhelm people with information. How many you have actually read the disclosure statements sent out by your bank or investment funds? How many of you read the terms and conditions for a piece of software? Or do you just click accept? I believe that more data actually causes us to be less diligent and more willing to just click “accept.”

The information overload that has evolved via the 2 L’s (Litigation and Legislation) is something we have to live with in contracts and proxy statements but this form of high-volume communication should not be allowed to permeate your organization. 

Our goal is to build an information flow that will provide the greatest insight with the least amount of volume.  With simple and clear dashboards, there are no excuses for managers that claim to be in the dark or overwhelmed by too much data.

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