Do You Create Reports No One Reads?

Do You Create Fly Reports

Many years ago I attended an IBM Conference where I learned about “Fly” reports. Read on and learn why “Fly” reports are a sad indictment of business today and see if your co-workers see your efforts as “Fly Reports”!

Dateline November, 1943 Somewhere in the South Pacific

In the movie “South Pacific” we have two adventuresome individuals providing a very boring, yet dangerous service: Coast Watchers!

Coast Watchers were responsible for reporting on Japanese supply and troop movements in the South Pacific. They would identify the types and number of ships, the direction and speed they were moving and report the information back to the US Naval Command.

Frequently Dangerous but Incredibly Boring

The movie portrays the role as exciting and always dangerous. To some extent that’s true, but for certain there were many days the Coast Watchers saw nothing and were not being chased or strafed by enemy planes. So what to do?

I’m guessing all the Coast Watchers had their own way of passing time. However, there were at least two who were a little more creative at least some of the time.

Creating Fly Reports

In an effort to reduce their boredom and see if Naval Command was paying any attention; the two industrious Coast Watchers created the first “Fly Report”. It went something like this:

The Coast Watchers waited to hear something from Naval Command but after several months with no response; they stopped producing the report. A few days after their typical time for submitting the report they finally received a message from Command, it said: “Where is your monthly Fly Report?”

Why We Create “Fly Reports”

There are many reasons we create “Fly Reports” including:

  • Management direction;
  • Because it’s always been produced;
  • Maybe you thought it would be helpful;
  • It’s system generated;
  • Someone requested the information; or
  • It’s something to do.

A Real Life Example of “Fly Reports”

Early in my career I worked for IBM and one of my customers was a Federal Jobs Agency. The agency had a couple of pretty sharp programmers with a commanding knowledge of the data they wanted to collect. The account didn’t require a lot of technical support; however I stopped in periodically just to see how they were doing. A couple years after turning the account over I ran into one of the non-programmer employees and asked how things were going.

His Response Caught Me Off Guard.

He said he was no longer with the agency. He went on to say he had to leave because he no longer had an office; it started with reports being stacked in the corner and had evolve to his office being taken over by the mountains of reports which no one had time to read. The ultimate example of “Fly Reports”?

Do You Have “Fly Reports”?

It is highly likely your organization has “Fly Reports”. If you are not getting feedback on your reports or the expected results aren’t happening; you have probably identified a “Fly Report”. For the next three report cycles continue to produce the report but don’t distribute it to anyone. See if they come to you asking for the information; if they don’t it’s time to inform the distribution list you will no longer be distributing the information and, unless someone complains and can justify the effort, stop wasting your time and resources. You have better things to do!

Eliminating “Fly Reports”

There are two methods for eliminating “Fly Reports; either make them useful or get rid of them. If the information presented in the reports is useful; then you must question why it isn’t being used. Is it a matter of understanding how to use the report or what the information is telling the reader? If so, train the users on how to use the information. If the value of the information appears to be minimal or non-existent; then follow the Coast Watchers’ solution and stop providing the report.


In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say; some information is useful and valuable and some is not; the question is whether the reader can tell the difference. The reader must be able to discern value and when there is value be able to interpret and apply the data. If they can’t do this and training doesn’t help; then it’s time to replace the person.

To reiterate: if there is no value stop sending the information; again I didn’t say stop producing the information because there is a difference. To stop sending now doesn’t preclude sending the information later; it simply means it could be sent later, if requested. To stop producing means the relevant information at the appropriate point in time may no longer exist and therefore you could be in trouble!


My name is Tom Staskiewicz and my goal is to help everyone do a little better, get a little further and reach the success they are destined to achieve!

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