What’s in a Form?

Clients often find they are buried in paperwork – often in the form of, well, forms.  “Why do we have to fill out all this information?”  “Can’t we streamline all this work?” “I can’t get any real work done because I’m always copying and pasting into yet another form.”

All of these are very real pain points.  Before we delve into form complexity, however, let’s consider why forms exist in the first place.  Specifically, for what use are forms helpful in a process?

The main function of a form is to collect specific, necessary information in a standardized fashion from one source of knowledge to the next as a tool to provide value to a process. 

When you go to the doctor for the first* time, it is valuable for that physician to understand your medical history in order to properly diagnose and treat you, as well as to understand your individual risks regarding future health considerations.  (*Aside:  different from redundant and repetitive collections of medical history via forms!)  When you apply for a loan, it is necessary to provide your financial situation to inform the bank about your reliability to pay interest on the principal.  Within an organization, it may be necessary to provide specific information about particular outputs of one process as inputs to the next that is handled within another department, or for entry into the System of Record.

The problem is that often we abuse the basic tenet of value-added form use by adding more or expanding forms without thinking why we need the information contained within them at all. 

A couple years ago, I was with an engineer who complained that the sales team did not list a negotiated customer price in a form passed on to engineering.  When I asked for what the engineering team used that information, the engineer faltered.  “Well, I think we copy and paste it and just keep track of it,” he said.  “Okay, but what value-add thing do you do with that information that renders it necessary to you?”  “I don’t know,” he admitted.  We went on to discover that the quoted price was listed in a Quote Letter that was available in a common shared folder for all team members to access. 

What’s wrong with this picture?  First, the receiving party did not even know for what they needed that information – only that there was a field on the form for that price, and in this case it was not filled in.  Second, the form had redundant information– the value in the field requested was available elsewhere.

“I’ll go to bat for you, (Engineer),” I said.  “If you can tell me why you need that information, we’ll make sure that it is always provided to you in this process in a standardized way.”  The engineer agreed, and we also discussed how the overall process is being overhauled in our Process Improvement project anyway, so this particular form is being replaced with something else that is scrubbed for value-add, as well as considered for direct entry by the initial knowledge owner to the system of record to eliminate the need for manual entry into the existing quagmire of forms fields.

If your organization is experiencing the pain point of too many or too cumbersome forms, step back and review the following:

  • Why is each form needed?
  • What value does each field in each form provide to the recipient?
  • Is there some way for the knowledge owner to pass on that information into the ultimate “system of record” or resting place for the information directly, without using a form in the first place? 

These are the types of things AJC considers in Process Improvement projects via our Current and Future State mapping sessions.  If you need help, we would be happy to be of service!