(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Every manager, at every level, has the same problem -- how to get useful status reports from their direct reports without creating busywork or a burdensome process along the way.
I've worked on teams in which everyone submitted e-mail to the manager. That's simple for the employee, but impossible for the manager to file, search, or archive in any meaningful way. Another team required status reports to be input in Microsoft OneNote. It's searchable, but the tool had trouble keeping in sync across a network and took a lot of time to keep up to date. Now there's a stunningly elegant solution that solves all those problems. And it's free.
ThinkFuse is an online status reporting tool that's based in part on the status report system in use at Google. The idea is simple: Employees log into ThinkFuse and enter a status report using a template that has the key sections already organized, such as "accomplished," "pending," and "Need help with." When the employee saves the status report, it appears in the manager's channel, and is completely browsable and searchable. Each report appears chronologically and can be sorted or filtered by person, making it easy to find specific information in a past status report lightning fast.
The channel's owner can specify who has visibility into the channel -- such as managers upstream and the direct reports' peers, for example.
Templates can also be easily customized: You can add, for example, a "red flag" section and an "upcoming out-of-office reminder" section to the status report quite easily, and everyone who files reports in that channel will immediately get the new format the next time they enter a status report.
ThinkFuse is simply brilliant. It solves one of the oldest and most annoying problems for both employees and managers alike. It makes filing and searching status reports simple, makes it easy to ensure reports are consistent and filed in a timely manner, and even provides a simple way to ensure transparency across the organization. And, at least for now, it's free.
Dave Johnson was employed by Microsoft Corporation at the time this article was written.