Pros and Cons of Collecting Process Information

Every department has a set of procedures-formal or informal, to deliver output to their customers-internal or external. These are the basic inner workings of any organization within any industry. Managers are responsible for keeping track of the work in house, maintaining quality standards, and adhering to service-level agreements.

There is a value to the organization to be able to see at a high level the workload in each department and how tasks are interrelated. This can help with finding bottlenecks, forecasting, smoothing operational rough edges, and maintaining quality.

Small departments with minimal resources and/or hands-on management sometimes take an organic approach, where one manager or “traffic controller” keeps track of everything in their own way. Some do it in their heads, others illegibly scribble on notepads or use white boards. On the other end of the spectrum are complex software packages that track every movement, time every task, and report a giant array of metrics.

Taking either extreme can lead to problems fairly quickly. If your dedicated, hands-on, and proprietary traffic-controller calls in sick, takes a vacation, or quits, the department may find itself in chaos; nobody else even knows how the place was run. I’ve seen this happen many times, and it isn’t pretty. The department may look good on paper in terms of performance and quality, but you must still make sure there exists at least some documentation such that it can still function without a key player.

On the other hand, complex software packages can be prohibitively expensive and actually destroy productivity. If the interface isn’t conducive to your workflow, or if it simply collects to much information, employees can spend more time “serving the system” than they are getting work done. Creative and technical workers rely on being in a specific mindset to accomplish their work; constantly recording information into a software system can break that and lead to frustration.

There is no perfect answer here. This is a balancing act between organizational visibility and effort spent recording data. Completely appeasing creative workers and creating an informational black-hole is not acceptable or recommended, but tracking too much can smack of 1984 style big-brother. Finding middle ground involves a great deal of communication and potentially some technical prowess. Expensive off-the-shelf systems are rarely able to support such customization without non-trivial caveats.