It’s a fact of life in most corporate environments that lots of documents need to be created and lots of managers need to review them.

The typical rhythm goes like this:

  1. An individual contributor creates a first draft of a document and sends it to her boss for review.
  2. The boss provides comments and sends the document back to her.
  3. She does a revision of the document and returns it to her boss.
  4. The boss sends the document around for more feedback from the bosses peer set (other managers), collects feedback, then returns the document to her.
  5. Employee revises again, then again returns the document to her boss – and finally the boss sends the document up the leadership chain to her boss, repeating steps 1-4 at every successive level of the hierarchy until the document reaches “final” draft and is sent to senior managers or the CEO.

Based on this trend, each layer of management requires five separate efforts (one creative effort, two review efforts, and two revision efforts). Assuming each effort takes one hour – that’s five hours of work per reporting tier. Assuming a corporate structure with three levels of management – that’s up to 15 hours of work per document.

Here’s a provocative question: How much value do you think is added in between the first draft and the final draft? 10%? 25%? 50%?

Even if 50% of the document’s value is added in manager review, that’s still incredibly low efficiency in terms of value added per hour vs. the original effort of writing the first draft. The first hour of effort creates 50% of the value, and then the next 14 hours create (in aggregate) 50% of the effort; meaning each hour after the first is – on average – 1/14th as efficient as the original effort. What if, instead of sending the final draft of a document to the CEO, we made the habit of sending the first draft instead?

In this case, the document is CEO-bound anyway, so it wouldn’t materially increase what the CEO has to review. Further, it prevents that back-to-square-one situation you’ve probably experienced before: several employees spend hours fine-tuning a draft just to find out that senior management discovers a fundamental problem with it during the “final” review phase.

It’s an interesting culture dynamic. Are you a company who sends the final draft of documents to the CEO, or a company who sends the first draft to the CEO? In today’s fast-moving technology market where major company-changing decisions are made weekly, I strongly believe the latter will win.

The Dubious Value of “Final” Drafts
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