Shoot Me Now: The Hazards Of Bulleted Lists
As facility managers, we all have administrative responsibilities. We all encounter administrative challenges, especially if we work for larger organizations or institutions. This is a brief story that Scott Adams and his lovably irreverent character, Dilbert, could have done justice.
Part of my responsibilities include providing a quarterly capital projects status report to the finance department, the controllers. I have to describe what has occurred on each project over the past quarter, along with updating the financial status of the project. Being a results-oriented manager, I am focused on the purpose of a task as it relates to, well, the desired results.
Not long ago, I submitted one of these quarterly projects status reports. Approximately 20 to 25 different projects were included. A day or so later, one of the controller’s budget officers arrives at my door to discuss the status report. The following (somewhat paraphrased) exchange occurred:
Budget Officer: “I’m compiling the capital budget reports in preparation for issuing the consolidated report to the management team and I need you to change something.”
Me: “Sure. What is the problem?”
BO: “I notice on the report for Project X, that under status, you have stated ‘No progress. Project delayed due to city delays issuing building permit.’”
Me: “Yes that is true.”
BO: “You can’t do that.”
Me: “Why not? It’s the truth. The project was delayed because the city has not yet issued a building permit. It’s entirely out of our control.”
BO: “But you have written only one bullet.”
BO: “Well we cannot submit a report like this with only one bullet.”
Me: “Why not?”
BO: “Because you have to have at least three bullets.”
BO: “Because the vice presidents read this and we have to tell them more.”
Me: “But there is nothing more to say.”
BO: “I am sorry. You have to come up with at least two more bullets.”
Me: (IN MY HEAD): “Is this for real? Am I really having this conversation?”)
Me: “But the statement tells the truth.”
BO: “Well it is not acceptable.”
Me: “The truth?
BO: “No, you should always tell the truth. But, you can’t have only one bullet.”
ME: “So you want me to make up more information so you can put three bullets in this entry?”
BO: “I don’t want you to make up information, but you need to have three bullets.”
Me: “I simply don’t understand how this contributes to our objectives. I’d have to start writing fiction and I don’t have time. Furthermore, only one bullet tells the story. I thought the purpose was to give people an update on the project status?”
BO: (getting extremely exasperated) “It just…won’t be…acceptable to the VPs.”
Me: “How do you know that? I am sorry, but I am not going to change it. Let the VPs or the controller complain to me if they really want three bullets.”
BO: (storms out of my office.)
Now I am neither a violent guy, nor am I interested in hurting anybody. But this was a case where I could imagine doing something with at least rubber bullets to wake this person up to how ludicrous their statements were. Too many people lose sight of the desired end result by emphasizing process. And process is important as long as it contributes to, rather than obstructs, the achievement of results.
What I really wanted to say to this colleague was “So…this planet you are from, is it a lot like Earth? Clearly you are going to need many bullets to defend yourself from the aliens’ attack.”
— Anonymous (and very funny) facility manager
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