Seven Deadly Estimating Sins of Records Management

estimateRecord and Information Managers and Records Officers are constantly implementing positive initiatives that drive improved records management. It’s exciting to see the proliferation and diversity of good ideas within the records industry. The majority of initiatives don’t require a financial budget, official project status or external contractors, so Records Managers have the authority to implement these initiatives without the burden that can be created by red tape. In theory there is nothing to slow positive forward progress and rapid achievement of results.

Yet at least 50% of good initiative become a burden to the originator. Some come to a grinding halt, and others become a feat of endurance to reach conclusion. Such initiatives also become stressful and build negativity within your team. In the longer term you become jaded about “good ideas”; both your own and those of other team members, and in the future avoid taking on the extra burden they may become.

What is the reason so many “good” initiatives fail to achieve the anticipated results?

Our inability to accurately estimate the requirements within an initiative is the key factor. Experience and reflection enable us to improve on these, as does learning from the experience of other people.

Over many years of working in the records and information industry we’ve identified 7 key requirements which people repeatedly inaccurately estimate in implementing simple initiatives.

1. Planning

Every initiative requires planning to achieve the required result. Official projects require comprehensive plans which are time consuming, both in set up, implementation and continuous maintenance. Based on the workload this level of planning requires it is not surprising that people avoid planning when it comes to small “projects”. Even the terminology is avoided and the “project” is required to be labelled as an activity or initiative, which generally is taken as permission not to plan in detail.

To effectively complete any initiative a clear plan of the steps, responsibility, time frames, etc. is necessary. Planning ensures the required thought process is applied to tasks, resources and time. Even if it is only yourself who will actually implement the initiative, planning provides a structure to follow and refer back to as disruptions occur. What am I doing? Where am I up to? How do I intend to achieve this?

2. Time

This is the most underestimated element of initiatives (and projects), and often the most misunderstood. Time required to complete an initiative includes actual time (time performing each task) and lapsed time (time required between each task, such as testing of systems by other people).

Additionally we need to accurately calculated and add in the time those involved will devote to business as usual (BAU) activities and work the tasks in our initiative around these. Formal projects describe the official allocation of job roles between BAU time and project time and the same thought process is necessary for initiatives.

When asking individuals, or yourself, how long each task will take to complete ensure all time elements are taken into account, and don’t aim to please by calculating the shortest possible time. The inaccurate result will lead to disappointment and failure to achieve.

3. Capability

How capable are you and your team of undertaking this new initiative? Does it call on new skill, knowledge or even a new attitude within the team? Personal and team capability is frequently over estimated. A new initiative may not sound like a stretch to current capabilities when first described, but it can quickly become apparent that it is when people do not deliver the results for each task.

Signs that capability is being stretched are high rates of error, poor quality documentation, procrastination is getting started on tasks, failure to complete tasks within time frames, or failure to achieve meetings and engagement with teams within the organisation. Coaching or skill gap training should be factored in to achieving the initiative.

4. Resources

Many initiatives come to a grinding result through underestimation of required resources; people and materials. The disposal initiative that halts because there is insufficient interim storage for the volume of records received for disposal or archiving. Or the scanning initiative which results in vast volumes being delivered to records for scanning, but no available staff resources to process them.

Factor in an overwhelming response to your initiative and determine what resources you will require to complete it in a timely manner, and make allowances for the time required. Whilst an over response may be good (and better than no one listening to you), the fact that more resources were required than originally budgeted for may have a negative legacy with your manager.

5. Perception

No-one is more excited by a new initiative than the originator of the idea. The initiative will only get off the ground when the originator gains enthusiasm and permission from their manager and/or the team. Therefore when you’ve been involved with a group of enthused people it is easy to overestimate the positive perception of the initiative by other people.
Everyone may think it’s a good idea in principle, but in reality especially when the initiative will require contribution of their thought or effort their perception of it may be negative.

6. Change

The level of change resistance is always under estimated. Your initiative may in reality require very little change, but any change in workload (in order to achieve the initiative or when it is part of BAU), current practice or responsibilities has a high likelihood of triggering change resistance in some people.

Err on the side of caution here and assume the change will be challenging for some people impacted. Review how you communicate and factor in activities that will enable people to make the required change comfortably.

7. Quality

Originators of initiatives tend of set high quality standards for their initiative, creating a level of perfection for the resources created or results achieved that no-one can attain. Frustration for one party, and failure for the other are the typical results.

Ascertain the quality outcomes required within the initiative. Do they actually match the level required by the business?
Perfection is highly desirable, but frequently unachievable, and the demand for it can be highly detrimental. For example onerous titling rules in a scanning initiative may be extremely time consuming to apply without reading every document, and even beyond the capability of the staff member performing the task. Set an achievable clear minimum standard and apply a continuous improvement approach to build quality and capability.

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