Are you tied down to month-end reports? Do you find yourself dreading them? Does your family know that the end of the month means ordering pizza for dinner for three or four nights as you work late? Does your staff fear the month-end monster you become behind your locked office door as you toil in silent aggravation? Ready to put a stop to the month-end madness?
There are four questions you should ask of every report. These will help you determine just how important they are. Knowing the answers to these is critical to your month-end sanity and just might reveal how much grief you can save yourself and others.
We are creatures of habit. We get into ruts and often forget to ask why we do what we do. The questions below are meant to challenge you to consider what reporting ruts you may be stuck in.
The idea is to track the report from origin to outcome in order to determine whether or not to continue stressing over it. Maybe you've been wasting time or chasing the wrong data. The report might just be busy-work that leads to no valuable conclusions.
Before you read the questions, try making a promise. Will you promise that whatever the questions reveal, you'll do everything in your power to change what you can? With that commitment in mind, let's ask the questions.
- Who assigned the reports? Can you track down who originally asked for the report? If so, does that person or entity still need the data? Do they even still work there? Or, perhaps ironically, was it you? That may seem like a silly question but think of it. Did you create a reporting task for yourself? What was the reason - to prove something to someone (and do they really care) - to hold staff accountable - to hold third party entitites accountable - or, shame on you, to show off? The bottom line on this question is, does the original source still need the report? If so, do they need it in the same form? If not, stop doing it unless you have a compelling reason to continue. Save the time!
- Is monthly the best time frame? Is there a good reason to review the data monthly? If so, does anyone actually do the review? If not, how about quarterly, semi-annually, annually, or not at all? Perhaps the reverse is the case. A weekly or daily report might be even more valuable. How timely is the data and what important part of your practice will be affected if the data is not reviewed within a certain period of time? A serious evaluation of the value of the data may reveal some good reasons to drop the report altogether or take it in smaller time units that are easier to track and demand less of your time.
- Is the data 'business critical'? This is the most important of the four questions. What difference does knowing the data make? Can you make precise profit decisions, operating improvements, or other key business changes that justify the report? Challenge yourself to write a short statement that clearly defines the absolute need for the data. Once satisfied the report is essential, you can rest assured your time is being spent wisely. I find it helps to reduce stress when I know my activities have value.
- Does anyone use the report? You've identified the origin and verified that he, she, or they say they still need the data. You've deterimined the correct, if any, timeframe. You've defined the business-critical nature of the report (or not). Now, the obvious but sometimes forgotten question. Does anyone actually look at the report and use it to make decisions? You might be surprised in the same way The World Bank was.The World Bank is an organization that releases hundreds or maybe thousands of reports annually acording to a story in the Washington Post. They recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Conclusion, a lot of their reports were a waste of time. Are yours?
Now it's time to keep your promise. Will you do everything in your power to make positive changes based on what these questions reveal? If so, I hope you'll find that month-end becomes a satisfying exercise in practice improvement rather than being tied down to busy work and outdated requests.Here's to freedom from month-end madness!