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Can This Inventory Be Saved?

While teaching Better Business Writing at a world-class Pacific Northwest business yesterday, I heard a story of an equipment inventory that made me shudder.

At this business of 4000+ people, an inventory request goes out each year. A blank sheet goes to each department annually, and on it, each department is to list its computer equipment and other electronic equipment, with serial numbers.

A blank sheet. A blank sheet that has to be filled in each year. Each year employees go through their shops and offices, rerecording the serial numbers of their equipment.

Why can’t this inventory be saved? Why can’t departments receive a copy of their previous year’s inventory, along with the request that they add, delete, and correct any entries?

While I usually write about business writing–not equipment inventories–the baffling inefficiency of this inventory communication made me want to shout "Stop it! Stop wasting all that time and effort!" After all, in my small office alone, inventorying our equipment would take an hour. Yet editing last year’s list of equipment would take just minutes.

Yes, each department could save its inventory before sending it on, but that would require an effort from each department. I want whoever is requesting the inventories (and who no doubt saves them) to send the old inventories back each year with the new inventory requests.

Yes, this inventory can be saved, and with it valuable time and effort.

Now I’m thinking about how I could work more efficiently. Maybe there is something I could be saving instead of recreating each year. How about you?

Syntax Training


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

9 comments on “Can This Inventory Be Saved?”

  • If you save that list and next year you look for the items in the list. It will be easy to mark which items are in the list, and which are not.

    But it’s gonna be quite difficult to identify new items to be added if you don’t look for all the items in your department. You’ll end up listing everything again just to find new things to add to the list.

  • The suggestion is a good one, although it will take some planning to come up with the right forms/lists. Otherwise, like ‘graffic’ said, you’ll end up listing everything again. Sounds like a job for me!
    Separately, may I put a link to this blog on mine? I love your tips. My blog is very new but I don’t want to stuff it just for the sake of building a blog. Will await your response. Thanks.

  • Thanks to you both for commenting. As someone who is not an expert in inventories, I appreciate your views.

    Suma, of course you can link to this blog if you think it will interest your readers. I hope writing your new blog gives you a lot of satisfaction. Good luck!


  • I’ll share a radical finding, done as part of a Master’s thesis: nobody really cares! My old boss was designing a capital equipment tracking system as his thesis project. (Hey, it’s a capitalist economy, right? Of course, the company cares about its capital equipment!) Except, nobody really did care, and he wasn’t allowed any budget to go to step 1.1.

    The notion that it’s imperative to keep track of stuff that’s depreciating off the books at warp speed is likely to be holdover from something our moms and dads taught us, not really a good business practice. What’s wrong with logging the thing in when it’s bought; depreciating it off the books according to the IRS schedule; and letting the day-to-day management of the company work thru the purchasing and budgeting systems?

    Never understood the benefit of being able to say to the accounting supervisor, “No! You can’t have a new desktop, because we gave you one two years ago–where’s that one?” They never know the answer, and they have a legitimate need for a new one. So, what’s the big tracking effort doing for you?

  • Geronimo, thanks for your “radical finding.” It reminds me that I should stay safely within the bounds of business writing.


  • I think the reason a blank list is sent out is simple: people are lazy. If I were to receive a pre-filled in list I would OK it without looking…if I got a blank list I’d have to fill it in, wouldn’t I?

  • The ideal technological solution seems to be a user-friendly information system built on a robust inventory database. I’m close to completing my degree in Management Information Systems (MIS), so I’ve been studying this type of thing.

    My personal conclusion is that technological solutions tend to be overrated. Putting pen to paper (even a blank sheet!) is often simpler and in the best interests of the organization. Building, maintaining and actually USING such an information system (or ‘I.S.’) may be cost prohibitive, in terms of both money and time.

    Let’s assume such an I.S. is in place. Each department is given a report of last year’s inventory–what’s to prevent them from just signing off on it without actually verifying the inventory, like grimo1re suggested? “Yep, it’s all here!” True, there would presumably be consequences for inaccuracies, but this sounds like a large company where such inaccuracies may go unnoticed.

    Even if a company has a quality I.S. in place (and it’s possible the company in this case does), distributing blank sheets of paper puts the burden on each department to account for their inventory, keeping employees on their toes, so to speak. For example, a missing inventory item is not likely to be recorded on the blank sheet; whereas an inventory item that is in fact missing but appears on a pre-printed list could simply be “checked off” as present, with or without actual knowledge of its whereabouts (i.e., the item has been stolen; lost; or it’s existence has not been verified, just “checked off” on the list). And that may be EXACTLY the type of information upper management wants.

    This may be a case in which a perceived inefficiency is actually an asset.

  • Did I REALLY just use “it’s” on that last comment where I should have used “its”? On a GRAMMAR blog, no less??? Ugh!

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