Pushing Information Upstream (aka How to Talk to Your Boss)


We all recognize the benefits of proactive vs. reactive maintenance. The same principle applies with information. It’s far easier to predict and plan for a problem than it is to clean up after one. To prevent problems from occurring in the first place, you want to push information upstream early and often, and on your schedule.

What kind of information am I talking about? Generally speaking, I’m defining information as the presentation of data which is relevant, precise and accurately framed in a context that is readily understandable by the intended audience. I’m not talking about a 15 page spreadsheet in a font that is so small that a 14 year old rabbit hunter couldn’t read it! What really resonates with management is comparative information presented in a graphical format such as a chart. Upper management doesn’t necessarily want all the details, and you don’t necessarily want to share them. There are two types of graphical charts: comparative and status indicators.

Let’s take a look. Comparative charts are typically in the form of pie charts, bar graphs and line graphs. They compare one set of data to another. A chart such as the one at the right shows “Estimated Labor Hours by System.” It is a comparative chart that displays the System name on the X axis and the total estimated hours on the calculated, or Y axis. This chart communicates a great deal of information because it is comparing two recognizable, understandable quantities. It could use a little context, however, such as “this month.”

Status indicators typically only show one data point—but the way it is presented can still be communicative. For example, we’ve all seen those charts that show progress towards a goal. Those are status indicators. The data is presented using a familiar example—generally a thermometer with the top being the goal amount. Another way to present status data and turn it into information is to use gauges with a needle overlaying min max values on the face of a gauge like the gauge at the right showing Estimated Labor Hours for work orders on Hold.

Once you get your boss accustomed to getting good, useful, relevant information on a regular basis, you can start having meaningful conversations about resource allocation, innovative approaches to solving old problems, and “pie in the sky” type planning. It will be a good thing.