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Where is the Blue Sheet?

November 11, 2014

IMG_1146 (2)Pursuit of excellence demands detail attention.  Audit trail, decision criteria, review stats, goal progress, and historical databases seem like a plague that plugs up progress.  Not really.  Only if they are not consistent with the flow of the organization engine and customer demand do they interfere.  They are necessary actions that meet legal requirements, compliance mandates, risk mitigation, and goals tracking.

Delegation in a clear format is one of those pesky details.  An abrupt email rarely captures all the specifics needed for good delegation.  A text is a waste.  A phone call will result in missed pieces.  When it is a matter of substance, take some time to write it out in discussion.  Hallway interruptions need to be recorded and followed up.

For one financial organization, I worked with multiple unlike departments.   Each had a separate form of management flow.  The corporation had a loose knit, meeting driven mode of management.  Confusion reigned.  Fear of failure walked the hallways.  Authoritarian dictates were the norm.  Power brokers and politicians love this environment.  They can manipulate in back rooms.  But the customer and the owners suffer most when a sales support piece hits the streets and does not work in the sales process due to unclear objectives.   All the fingernail flying meetings won’t fix a new software rollout for accounting that lacks key compliance fields for entry.

As a manager of a few service areas, this was always a challenge.  Our departmental customers were politics driven and would change a request after we had moved forward at significant expense.  We learned to use a “Blue Sheet” to contain the chaos.

Really, the Blue Sheet was a problem, request, and change capture instrument.  Later, our team convinced the organization over a series of years to move in the IT areas to online capture and communication in these areas.  That left many areas untended.  So the service departments I managed used Blue Sheets.

In the early days of small computers, I remember pleading with my senior executive for a desktop to keep track of our service areas.  His reply was absolute wisdom.  “All you need, Phil, is a good pencil and a piece of paper.”  That reply made me angry.  But, he was right.  I went back and invented my first “Blue Sheet” and gave a pocket sized version to every team member for working directly with customers.  It worked.  Our service reliability improved and I could sift through a month’s pencil capture and note trends and take action that made big differences.  Later, we put it all on a desktop database for deeper analysis.

When a team member came into my office, they became accustomed to, “Where’s the Blue Sheet?”  Working with hundreds of requests, service orders, problems, and changes a day, the Blue Sheet gave us specific guidance on single issues.  Regular work orders had an online capture system.  Irregular needed something, too.

A Blue Sheet (we used blue paper) captured critical contact information, issue symptoms, probable cause, delegated action approach, expectations and any due dates and times,  and assignment.  With that, a team member could run without continually looking behind and asking questions.  There were no needs for continual meetings after that was captured.  When one or two or more needed to meet on the issue for a decision and direction, we pulled the Blue sheet to ensure we were continuing on target.  Improved information could be added and directional changes could be noted.  The holder of the sheet owned responsibility for accomplishment until handed off.  If resolution or service provision lingered beyond a few days, a more formal project definition and action plan could be drafted.

Everyone of us has a litany of lingering items that need “Blue Sheets”.  They won’t get resolved to satisfaction of the stakeholders without taking a few moments to capture key information items.

Sit down today with an outline that works for you that can capture quick information and thoughts.  Sometimes a simple piece of paper and a pen suffice.  Where’s your Blue Sheet?

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