The Status Update Circus

Status Update – the dreaded phrase that could quash every corporate employee in the blink of an eye!

While the need for keeping abreast of what is going on around and below you is an absolute necessity to function properly, the amount of time spent on updates increases exponentially with the size and levels in the organization. One almost wonders whether there should be a metric such as ‘percentage of time spent on status updates versus doing actual work’ in the same way that we talk about percentage of money spent on administration and fund raising for not-for-profit organizations.

The beauty of the situation is that most, if not all, of the executives involved in getting status updates almost always have no clue as to what the problem; nor are they able to contribute to the solution. Consider the following scenario when a customer has reported that the phones provided by your company are not working.

Day-1, Hour Zero: Support desk technician receives a message from the customer and dutifully logs the issue in the customer support database.

Day-1, Hour-1: Support supervisor assigns the problem to the Support engineer to troubleshoot and fix the issue. Support engineer shoots off an email to customer asking for more details. Starts looking through known error database.

Day-1, Hour-2: The sales representative in your organization tries to call the Manager, Operations at the customer office for exploring some upselling opportunities for additional network devices. Unable to get through their main telephone system (which is, of course, down at the moment) contact is made via the manager’s personal cell phone. The sales representative comes to know that the telephone system is down and informs his Sales Manager.

Day-1, Hour-5: The Sales Manager has ‘escalated’ the ‘calamity’ up his organization hierarchy and now the VP, Sales (on a vacation in the Caribbean) is making calls to every C Level executive in the organization (at various locations, naturally) to warn about the ‘impending disaster’ with a customer situation.

Day-1, Hours 2-9: The Support engineer has been trying to get some relevant information about what went wrong from the customer but nobody at their office has the time to gather and provide any details – worse, they don’t seem to be affected by the lack of ability to communicate!

Day-1, Hour-9: Matters have reached a feverish pitch in your company. Meetings, (yes you guessed right!) for status updates have been organized ‘asap’. Excruciatingly minute details of the non-existent sequence of events are being invented, sorry assembled, by technical staff who have been pulled out of their regular development work. In line with protocol requirements, levels of details are being suppressed, I mean summarized, as status updates are being reported to higher levels.

Day-1, Hour-24: Still no additional information is forthcoming from the customer, at the grassroots level. One is almost led to believe that there is no impact to their business operations (ironically perhaps, as the phone system is down, there are no status-update calls that staff are forced to attend and so they are able to focus on their real work!). However, it is an entirely different scene at your office. A war room has been opened to monitor, yes, status. A conference bridge has been opened to enable anyone with any non-information to provide updates – CNN style. The CEO has also joined the fray and has tasked two VPs from unrelated departments to provide him updates at 15-minute intervals. This in turn has the effect of several clueless managers in those departments demanding the engineering and support departments to provide them with information, starting with a primer on how-telephones-work.

Day-2, Hour-4: The Support engineer at the customer office returns from his one-day vacation and notices that the daily reset procedure for the phone system has not been followed by his rookie substitute. This in turn has caused the messages mailbox to overflow and consequently shut down the entire system. A quick reset solves the problem and the phones start ringing again.

Day-2, Hour-6: All the senior executives in your company are assembled in the CEO’s office discussing ‘contingency’ plans ranging from installing a completely new system for the customer, free of cost of course, to rehashing the company’s sales plans should the customer terminate their business. As is normal, the status update process has failed when the problem has actually been resolved and the senior management is unaware of the current status!

Day-3, Hour-1: Upset with the delay in getting status updates, the CEO has ordered a through review of the status reporting process and a VP, with a budget of a million dollars sanctioned out of emergency funds, has been tasked with identifying and putting in place a new system.

In corporate life, the status review/update process is not merely a means to an end – it is an end in its own right!