Post here examples of problems you have faced trying to complete a document in the past

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One of the exercises for this week in the admin processes component is to share examples of problems you have had when faced trying to complete a document in the past. Remember, these can be from anything, uni, volunteering, a job unrelated to conservation etc. I've got a lot of these I can share with you! One I've often encountered is not knowing who is meant to be doing what on the document, for example, being confused about who is the person who has the final say on the contents of the document and who needs to review the document.

Please post your thoughts as comments below and then we can start a conversation. Feel free to reply to other people’s posts if you have been in a similar situation or if you have some advice to share.

Beth Robinson

WildLearning Specialist, WildTeam

I'm a WildLearning Specialist with WildTeam, a bit of a odd job title. My main role is to design, deliver and organise both our online and class-based training workshops. One of the best parts of my job is meeting other conservationists and learning about the work that they do. I really enjoy geeking out reading teaching theory and thinking about ways I can more creatively and engagingly deliver learning. Before working for WildTeam I did a PhD in invasive plants and human wildlife interactions. I find it really interesting to learn about the ways people interact with nature, both when nature is being wonderful, but also when is is being a bit annoying!
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Go to the profile of Ryan Kinaid
8 months ago

A Problem I have faced working on a past document is probably lack of information. I wanted to make a cross reference chart for all the Capuchin monkeys in my care at CIWY in Bolivia. This was due to the fact that some of the capuchins don’t make great neighbors with each other and this would affect my decisions and actions on a daily basis. 

This is easier once you get to know all the Capuchins over time but I had just arrived and was in the middle of being trained. So I decided to make a cross reference to help new area coordinators like myself in the future, and this chart that would be accessible and editable on google sheets to be updated as the relationships between the Capuchins change.

There was one problem… I needed the knowledge… So I asked my trainer and another staff member who knew the Capuchins really well and they helped me fill in the chart.

Go to the profile of Rachel Stewart
8 months ago

Review by team of draft final version of flyer for dissemination to general public.

While it was important to have a couple of team members provide feedback, too many responses meant that some of that feedback came down to personal preference, or it contradicted someone else's, and it wasted time and money in the graphic design process.

Production of a Project Plan when the Chairperson of a partnership left.

A first draft of a Project Plan was part-written when this happened. Work continued on it, but the process was hampered by too many people in the partnership all wanting to influence it. It wasn't until the new Chair was appointed that the process was again streamlined and it could be completed as a whole, for subsequent discussion and feedback by the rest of the partnership.

Go to the profile of Florian Graber
8 months ago

Working as a scientist on upgrading a piece of scientific equipment I needed to access documents from the original built in order to complete my report.

Firstly, there was no folder structure in place allowing to find previous projects on our shared drive. So I had to trawl through hundreds of folders to find the relevant folder.

Secondly, once I found the folder, the documents I was looking for had not actually been stored there. So back to square one and looking in other possible places.

Thirdly, once I had actually found the correct folder the files and documents were not labelled in a meaningful way or with versions. Many hours of time investigating...

Go to the profile of Dan Winter
8 months ago

When writing a risk assessment for volunteer stock checkers, I first assumed it would already exist (working for a national charity) and spent time trying to find it. Having failed, I attempted to find the different parts (lone working, on site risks, etc.) to slot together easily. Some were classed as risk assessments, some as codes of practice, all stored in different places. Much of it I had to create from scratch. A week after I'd finished and sent it out, a colleague emailed me the copy they had done previously...

Go to the profile of Kriss Atkin
8 months ago

When I started in a new role, one task given to me was to clean up the folders and files. While reviewing I could see many old documents, no consistent naming of files and folders that suggested certain content and then contained many non obvious related files. There was no sign of version control, and more importantly what file was the final version. I made my recommendations on a new structure but think they were disappointed when I suggested cleaning things up would be something the team needed to do together. As a new person I wasn't prepared to sit and taper with files I had nothing to do with. In the end we all sat in a room and worked through folder by folder. It was time consuming for all concerned, but worth while as version control and naming of files for future was agreed, allowing for a more functional system to be put in place and everyone was on the same page. It was agreed this would be something to be reviewed regularly to ensure it was kept in order.

I've also had many times when I've been asked for a short report with the latest figures on an activity. When I've handed it over the person who requested it they can't remember why they asked for it!

Go to the profile of Liyana Khalid
8 months ago

Same, when I first started with my new job, I took over a project from the previous staff. The file names were inconsistent and some were a bit redundant and complicated. I had to rearrange everything in the files which really took a lot of time. Now, whenever we have new staff or interns working on a document or reports, consistency in filing system is the first thing we brief on! 

Another problem I had was other team members not contributing enough or on time, and it became a waiting game to complete a report. And eventually when they did contribute, its last minute and you have already moved forward with reviewing process. Time wasted for everyone..

Go to the profile of Ida Hansen
8 months ago

I have experienced this as well. There was no order and everyone was sort of filing in the way that made sense to them. Pretty confusing when you come in as a new one and basically an outsider. But maybe also an advantage, as it can be difficult to see when in the middle of it and used to it.

Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
8 months ago

Thanks all for posting these, good to read. 

Go to the profile of Lara Reden
8 months ago

A lack of information is the problem I've faced most often while completing documents. Forms often ask for details I don't have readily available. For example, when filling out any sort of medical document, I always feel like I'm missing something when it comes to questions about family history.

Go to the profile of Kanishka Karunanayake
8 months ago

Probably more a pet peeve than a big problem, but I find most companies, often the bigger ones that are meant to have in-house standards, have little consistency when it comes to documentation, especially presentations. Slides decks differ greatly between teams, departments and meetings, and it can become annoying when you have to present the same information to multiple meetings which requires constantly tweaking the slides to match the presentation format.

Over the years I've found myself becoming religious about version control. After many times having to redo work because of corrupt files, magically vanishing files, and files that refuse to save, I now create a new copy after any change to a document. It may mean I end up with tens or hundreds of versions but it reduces rework in the long run and the history is sometimes invaluable when you have to work out when or why you made changes.

Go to the profile of Katie Shaw
8 months ago

I have struggled to find the data I need when compiling a report for the funder. I needed to find how many volunteer sessions we had run and how many people attended each one.

I couldn't find the excel doc where I had already documented a few months ago how many sessions we had done. When I did find it we were really short on volunteer sessions and so my boss told me to include some other volunteer sessions we had been running. This was fine with the funding requirements however it turned out no one was completing a monitoring form for each of the other volunteer sessions so I have no idea when they occurred or how many people attended. 

Go to the profile of Niamh Robinson
8 months ago

A problem I have faced in my current job is a lack of organisation and filing. The Biology shared folder was very jumbled, had lots of duplicates and very few useful folders. I would be asked for a specific practical that was on the shared drive and be completely unable to find it (as would the teacher in most cases - usually they just have a vague idea of what they need and can't remember the practical title).

Luckily I was able to introduce some order before the IT department accidentally wiped the shared drive...

Go to the profile of Ida Hansen
8 months ago

I think one of the problems I most often come across is when you are waiting for feedback, information and data, comments etc. from others. It tends to come in close to the deadline and you end up having to incorporate everything last minute. This could potentially be solved by having shorter deadlines, but it does not always work out like that.

Go to the profile of Michael Burn
8 months ago

In my new role I have been responsible for creating standard operation procedures for a variety of duties carried out by our organisation. My first job was to understand what was already in place and what was the general understanding of a procedure. I quickly discovered that applications of a procedure differed geographically and according to experience. I faced a lot of 'this is how we have always done it' attitude. This meant there was a lot of resistance to 'change' just by carrying out the general research of what needed to go into the document. 

The difficulty was getting the balance of speaking to the right people / departments to ensure I had all the information I required, but not to involve too many people so that it overcomplicated things and slowed the process down. 

I found that simple procedures to follow wildlife legislation became overcomplicated because of individual's own interpretation of the wording, which was the need for the document to be created in the first place.

Go to the profile of Craig Duguid
8 months ago

In the past I have been involved in compiling shared documents where many separate 'contributors' were adding to the documents in a haphazard way.

In some cases there wasn't a clearly identified 'producer' role at all. In others, various contributors would add to many different parts of the document, rather than focussing on a specific list of sections or figures to produce. There were also some 'repeat offenders' who couldn't help themselves dipping into documents and making uncontrolled edits where they saw fit.

As you can imagine, this combination of lack of control and unhelpful behaviour led to complete chaos on occasion. Thankfully, lessons were eventually learned and productivity and team cohesion benefitted as a result! :-)

Go to the profile of Aaron Bhambra
8 months ago

In a previous role, I had to fill out an excell spreadsheet which monitored expenditure for a projects budget. The spreadsheet had too many columns and seemed to go on forever, it was difficult to find specific data and alot of the time important information was missed because people struggled to follow the document.

Go to the profile of Irene Duch-Latorre
8 months ago

Hi Beth, friends,

From the many problems I have faced developing documents, I have chosen a recent problem I had with a conservation-related document to share with you.

My colleagues from a Conservation Charity decided to apply for a very juicy Conservation Grant. We had a first meeting with the prospective producers, contributors, reviewers, and authority. During the meeting, the roles were assigned and the deadlines for writing and reviewing the Grant Proposal were set. Nevertheless, issues started to pile up quickly. We already had a proposal draft from a previous application, but that draft was not named nor filed properly and was only accessible to some of the producers. In consequence, some of us could only access to deprecated version and could not work in the updated version of the proposal. The proposal was poor and incomplete by the proposed deadline for the first draft, due to the missing contributions of part of our team. The draft deadline was pushed back to incorporate suggestions of all producers and contributors such that reviewers had a ridiculously short time to make revisions. The proposal could never be reviewed and updated thoroughly. Our sign-off authority decided not to "sign-off" an incomplete document and, unfortunately, the Grant Proposal was never submitted.

I hope my experience can help us learn some lessons!

Much cheer,


Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
8 months ago

Brilliant. Thanks all for sharing! 

Go to the profile of Caroline Howard
8 months ago

A few problems with completing documents:
- surveys on facebook forums for student projects. I try and complete them if I can, to help the student out, but often find that they don't include 'N/A' or 'neutral' options. If I can't answer i get half way through and give up - so they don't get the data.
- I find excel spreadsheets really counterintuitive - looking for additional tabs, wrapping text in cells etc. Unless people are very IT literate they don't tend to automatically know this stuff and my experience of communal documents in excel is that they're very inconsistenly completed.
- the first time I ever took minutes for a meeting it was for a conference and I typed up *everything*. The document was HUGE. Without the guidance of a set of minutes to follow, I made it a much more difficult job than it needed to be, and produced a much less useful document.