The process of drafting or updating reports is messy and inefficient, and it often seems to follow the same workflow that’s been in place for decades now.
There have been so many advances in software and IT that, for example, we now have the ability to automate repetitive tasks in disciplines like bookkeeping. Why, then, does your report generation process still feel like it did in 1999?
The Old Periodic Report Drafting Process
In preparation for your regular meetings, progress reports and updates should be standardized. This is especially true for public service organizations involved in government, healthcare, or education; a consistent presentation of the information enables your organization to accurately track important info and metrics between every regularly recurring meeting.
This need for a consistent report format creates the classic word processor based drafting workflow:
- A report template may exist, but the person responsible for creating the first draft of the next report usually loads up the previous meeting’s final draft instead. This is because such a report already has all of the necessary fields filled out, speeding up the process by allowing the user to “inherit” formatting features such as fonts, bullet points, etc.
- Making a copy of that last meeting’s report, the report writer starts by changing the date, changing the title, and lastly rewriting the content of the report.
- The writer then sends the “First Draft” of the report to other colleagues attending the same meeting. Those collaborators will help catch any missed details or old information accidentally left over from the previous report – but some of these may persist.
- Each collaborator on the report will make necessary updates and then send the revised document to the original report writer, renaming the file as they please. The report writer is then responsible for taking all of the changes from all of the collaborators, and consolidating them into one draft. Hopefully, the writer is successful in including all of the corrections and updates from the various versions they received back from the collaborators – no easy task, particularly if any of the updates conflict with each other.
- After making these updates and proofreading the result, the report writer will send the “Final Draft” to the meeting organizer for approval. If necessary, the report will be forwarded to all related leadership for final sign-off. This is the last stage of revisions before the report is approved and mass-copied for the meeting.
Why Reports Get Messy
The main problem with the above workflow is the high number of versions involved with each report. Outdated information from previous reports may be erroneously included; updates from colleagues or leaders may be inadvertently excluded; and the document that ends up getting distributed may accidentally not be the version that was finally approved.
Compounding the issue, it can be virtually impossible with this workflow to trace included information back to a specific contributor.
All of these problems stem from the lack of a central version control system, which makes the report drafting and approval process inherently inefficient as a consequence.
Redesigning the Report Drafting and Approval Workflow
The key to addressing these inefficiencies is a rethinking of the report drafting and approval process, enabled by a smart meeting management solution with integrated report management. Such a system helps users easily manage the preparation and approval of reports while automatically tracking versions and streamlining standardization.
Compare the previous process with the benefits enabled by intelligent report management functionality:
- Reports are started by using a standard template. Creating a template for each type of report saves time and ensures consistency.
- Once the first draft is completed, the meeting management software provides smart contribution tracking by enabling multiple collaborators to modify the same document through a single shared link. The report writer directs collaborators to the report draft by emailing out that link, and receives proposed changes back in the same, centralized place. This allows the writer to track who contributed each update, and approve changes for inclusion instantly as desired. The system also enables everyone involved to refer to previous versions as necessary by providing version tracking.
- When it comes time for sign-off, the meeting management software facilitates approval on the shared final version. Any proposed changes at this stage can be forwarded as necessary for further approval.
- As with collaborator tracking, the software tracks approval codes or signatures from meeting organizers. This allows for appropriate handling of late items and exceptions.
- At the end of the process, the version of the report that makes it into the hands of board or council members at the meeting is unambiguously final – with the necessary changes and approvals all included and/or accounted for.
Making the Changes
The right workflow, combined with a smart meeting management solution, dramatically improves the time-efficiency and quality of reports.
Evaluate your current report generation process for inefficiencies, and consider the benefits such a solution can bring you. Talk to the people within your organization who are responsible for drafting reports, and we’re sure most will agree that these are productivity bottlenecks that the right solution will solve!