Q: I work with some people who always seem to be trying to make things more complicated than they need to be. They suggest adding forms for people to fill out to do just about anything, and the documentation needs seem to outweigh the actual work. Before it gets out of hand, how can I help rein this in? I’m not the manager so don’t have authority to just stop it. — Nitin, 36, research analyst
A: Consider the business need and potential underlying source of this as you plan your approach.
First, has your boss asked them to manage the business more closely and this is the approach they are trying?
If so, it will be counterproductive to challenge the goal. However, if you have more creative ways to accomplish the goal, say, using technology, this could help improve the proposed process.
Also, often when people set up a form, they over-engineer it. They may need just a few pieces of information, which would be easy to complete and would seem reasonable to the average user. But then they fall prey to the “good to know” syndrome, asking for a more burdensome level of information just in case it will be needed.
You could be the voice of reason, keeping the actual content of the information gathering tightly focused.
If your boss isn’t behind it, that’s another matter. Some people just really like control and these activities may be an expression of that. Similarly, if your organization is going through a lot of change, this may be unsettling them, driving a desire for an extra level of structure.
In this case, on a case-by-case basis you could raise the reasonable question of “what’s the goal of this?” Discussing how it will be used and how it will add value can shine a light on unneeded forms, documentation, or processes.
I am also curious if your view that there’s an issue is widespread, or if it’s just your reaction. If other co-workers or teams that you work with find value in your colleagues’ efforts, it’s fine for you to disagree, but you should also accept that your opinion isn’t the only one that matters.
Another option would be to take a step back, enlisting colleagues and boss alike, to raise the topic of best practices in organizing and documenting your team’s work. In proposing this, you could honor your co-workers intentions and efforts, while also bringing visibility to ways that it could be improved.
This may all fall on deaf ears. In that case, what will you do? Is this a minor annoyance or do you believe that it really poses some type of risk to your organization?
Consider whether you are in the right role in your organization. It sounds like you are taking a more strategic view; take a look at whether some of the decisions you are interested in being involved with could become part of your formal responsibilities.
There may come a point where you need to decide if you can live with it or not. Be sure that you don’t draw a line in the sand that you don’t want to follow through on.