On Vacuous Documentation

If you read this blog, you know I’m no fan of vacuous documentation. In my experience, “comprehensive” documentation is often not comprehensible, and likely to get stuck in a drawer and forgotten.

By the way – The technical term for that is “waste.”

On the other hand, sometimes your are mandated, or required, to fill out the paperwork. To this day I remember the huge amount of documentation we had to produce for 10th grade history. It was so intense that I dropped the course.

Then, a month later in Alegebra 2 class, a friend of mine showed me his A+ homework score … and, on the second page, where for the answer to question #4 he wrote the entire lyrics of “lucy in the sky with diamonds” as an answer.

Yup, you got it, the teacher either played favorites or merely judged the first page of homework. And it makes sense – with 6*30 = 180 students, with five pages of homework a night, she simply could not grade all the assignments she was given.

I learned something that day.

Fast-forward to the summer of 1993, where I am a flight commander at the Maryland Wing Summer Encampment for Civil Air Patrol. Basically, the program is very similar to the Boy Scouts, with an Air Force feel.

I am a flight commander, in charge of a sergeant and dozen cadets or so. Each night, I had to fill in an evaluation form. The form had me score my experience for the day, somewhere from 1-10.

The first day, I was a 5. It went downhill from there; I wrote 3, 1, -5, “are you even reading this?” — and never got a reply.

I figured no one was reading the forms; the whole thing was a waste of time. It was just like 10th grade history class.

Fast forward ANOTHER two years, to 1995, where I’m a squadron commander, and have a little more leisure time. I strike up a conversation with the encampment XO, and he says something that really surprises me.

“Oh yeah, Heusser – dude. I remember your eval forms back in ’93. Those were hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. We passed them around the entire command staff.”

Then I remembered that that year I did not get honor officer or the honor flight award.

There’s two edges to this sword. Yes, the forms might be vacuous and silly – AND – just as important – you never know who might be reading them.

When it comes to vacuous documentation – be sure to tread lightly.

2 comments on “On Vacuous Documentation

  1. “I remember your eval forms back in ’93. Those were hilarious.”

    The obvious conclusion here would be this: the senior staff knew that the reports were pointless, allowing them to just enjoy your playing with them rather than taking any corrective measures, and yet of course the requirement was never dropped. In fact, you apparently think you were ‘punished’ (not getting the various ‘honor’ awards) for knowing and acting on the belief that the reports were vacuous–a view your leadership obviously internally agreed with.
    So here we are now in the real adult work world, where middle managers still generally administer and comply with requirements and procedures they know (but pretend not to know) are equally pointless, and the best way to get along is to pretend to be as clueless about all that as your managers are pretending to be.
    That’s the negative analysis.
    The positive analysis would be that you were a squadron commander two years later–what happened to the ‘honor officer’?

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