Time is precious. Time is money. Why waste it?
Below is a short case study of a company I helped complete their reporting and connected data trending more efficiently without spending any extra cash.
Situation at the outset
The company produced consultancy reports for clients. The reports were finalised in MS Word. Scientific source data for each single project:
- were entered manually in an interim MS Word report,
- were collated manually in an MS Excel file to be tracked over time and
- were again entered manually in the final MS Word report.
This was not only a lengthy process, but also flawed by the inherent risk of introducing human error every time data were entered manually. To reduce the risk of sending false results to their clients, two colleagues along the reporting chain routinely verified that the data entered in the final report were correct. This means that additional staff time was invested and staff felt frustrated by the obvious inefficiency and the boredom of entering and checking the same data over and over.
My task was to streamline this process and prevent the need to enter the same data several times.
I created a central MS Excel file that collated all relevant client and project information as well as the scientific source data. This was the only place where source data had to be entered manually. The MS Word reports were reformatted and partially restructured to avoid double-entry.
The entire redesign allowed:
- to pull client and other project information into interim and final MS Word reports through Mail Merge;
- to create readily formatted data tables automatically within MS Excel spreadsheets and paste them into the MS Word reports (the data link option was dismissed as potentially too unreliable);
- to paste project data directly into another MS Excel spreadsheet that tracks historic data over time and serves as a database to generate custom charts automatically using macros.
Savings in staff time and nerves was significant.
- The estimated average time for data entry was 30 min at each stage. This has been reduced to spending 30 min once.
- Creating a chart could take 30-45 min depending on the quality of the legacy file. This has been reduced to 5-15 min depending on whether the latest project data had been transferred.
- The slicker process flow made reporting more pleasant for staff.
Data entry was still verified by one to two colleagues along the reporting chain to ensure accurate reporting to the client. However, since there was only one data source, this verification ensured that data across ALL documents were accurate, instead of just focussing on the final client report.
Ideally, one big database should handle all the project information and data, including historic data and charting. However, this would have meant a considerable investment of time and money for the company, as this reporting process had to fit in with other existing systems. Using essentially free software (the company holds software licenses for MS Office anyway) with which users were already very familiar was the most practical solution at the time. It permitted speedy implementation, quick buy-in from management and staff and easy inclusion of user requests later on. No specialist was required to manage the created MS Office documents.