Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Management: Documentation

documentationMy management course is now officially over. I feel that I learned a lot. I think I will actually be a better manager. That doesn’t mean I am terrible now, or that I will be perfect later, but I have gained the knowledge of several specific activities/actions that I can do to be a better manager. The last two things I will endeavor to do better are (1) documentation and (2) progressive discipline. In this post, I will discuss my new approach to documentation.

When I took the management course I thought I was documenting what was going on in the lab enough. Here is what I was doing before:

  1. I have people give weekly lab meetings. They make a weekly Powerpoint that goes into a Dropbox Folder.
  2. Everyone is supposed to write a report at the end of each semester and at the end of the summer. The report has specific things for them to write about. It includes them doing a self-evaluation.
  3. When I met with people one-on-one, I took notes in some notebook.

But, I realize that I can’t remember what people in the lab did over the entire last year. I can only remember the last 3 months. And, I don’t go back to look at those things they produced before. Sometimes they don’t do what I ask, and I don’t have Powerpoints in Dropbox or end of semester reports. Then, I have nothing to document what they did. Further, these are all self-documentations of stuff they did as they saw it. It is useful, but they are not necessarily my impressions of what they did or (more importantly) how they performed. I realized I needed a new system.

My first thought was to have paper files for each person where I write my thoughts and comments, but then I was worried my office might look like that picture above, and decided against it. Instead, I asked around at the management course, and a couple of people there were already documenting things well. They have a word document (or other program- pick your favorite) for each employee. Whenever the person does something good, they write it down and date it. If the person does something bad, they write it down and date it. By the end of the year, when they need to do an annual review, they have all the goods and bads documented, and can just pull up the document and read it to remind themselves.

Based on this approach, I made my own plan. Here is my plan:

  1. I have a word document for each person.
  2. When I have a one-on-one meeting with the person where we discuss what will be done, experiments, things for graduate program, tasks, I will write it up there and date it. For tasks and assignments, I will copy and paste it into an email, so we are all on the same page.
  3. I will also monthly or twice a month write my impressions from the most recent weeks. I will say things like, “GradStudent did a good job this week on xyz experiment,” or, “Postdoc was OK, but needs to focus on ABC and defocus from LNMO. Jenny will have a discussion with Postdoc about this within a week.”
  4. I will use this information for grad students when talking to their committees. I will use this information for postdocs when writing their letters for jobs. I will use this information for undergrads when writing letters of recommendation or determining their grades for semester research credits. I will use this information for technicians when performing their yearly evaluations.
  5. I will use this information when documenting performance and if I need to implement “progressive discipline.” What is progressive discipline? Tune in next time to find out more.

So, what do you think of this plan? I think the hardest part will be remembering to do it. Remember to bring your computer. Remember to open the document while talking. Remember to make notes on the person once a month or so. I have held on for a month so far.

Are their any suggestions you would recommend? I am open to alternatives. Comment or post here. Also, to receive an email every time I post (I promise to be better once I get over the current hump in work load), push the +Follow button.

Comments on: "Management: Documentation" (4)

  1. Excitoskeleton said:

    I think this sounds like a noble goal, but one that will be hard to keep up with, especially the monthly notes.
    I am a postdoc mentoring undergrads and I like your idea of keeping notes about them in electronic form. Right now I definitely find it hard to keep track of what they have done. For instance, many times they will tell me a result when they are running to class and I have to remember to follow up with them later. Or, as you mention, they won’t do something I asked them to do. I think I might get this going right now!

  2. I do this with handwritten notes in my IPad. So, a hybrid between digital and paper. I find that it’s easier for me to take notes when we’re talking without a keyboard and it has the added advantage of allowing me to imbed photos of any white board work or drawings of hypothetical relationships. The files are automatically dated and each student has their own notebook/folder in the program. They are PDFd and dropped to my Google Drive automatically so I have them everywhere and linking items to my calendar is super easy this way. I’ve converted to doing all my ‘lab’ notebooks this way as well and it’s revolutionized my workflow. Check out Notability as a starting place, if you’re interested.

  3. […] you must have a lot of documentation. This is partly why you are documenting about your people (see last post), but also, you may need to corroboration from others in the […]

  4. […] I have mentioned the semester report in prior posts (management, lab rules, management), I realize that I haven’t made it explicit what the report is for, […]

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