Report What Matters!

How many people in your organisation are involved with reporting?

In many businesses today, hierarchical organisations demand hierarchical reporting, and the gradual distillation of “operational level” reporting to the concentrated heady levels of “management reporting”. Depending on the culture of the organisation this can be very intensive. This is a natural consequence of the traditional organisational structures that make up our businesses; but how many of your people are involved in what is often subjective distillation and interpretation of data into upward reporting information and how many hours every week/month are sacrificed to this activity across your business?

Fortunately many businesses are now able to pull management reporting data from a coherent data source, consistently time windowed, such that at least the energy spent on removing data anomalies is minimised. Even then it is surprising how many businesses have fragmented processes and business applications that require manual compilation of management reports. If your reports do not require lots of manual intervention they will still require an investment of time to read and interpret them so be very careful that this is time/effort well spent. Do a complete bottom-up, top-down assessment of your data, metrics and information reporting.

Reporting-But Who is Interpreting?

Reporting is bottom up – obviously!

By definition reporting is always bottom up, we have detailed information that gets aggregated and summarised and all too often diluted or distorted to avoid “unwanted management assistance”, but in your organisation how much superfluous information finds its way into regular reports just because the head of department A likes to let everyone know what his/her department is up to?

By definition, unless you have a very clean organisation and perfectly interfaced processes and tools, reporting takes a lot of manual and cerebral input as disparate data is interpreted and packaged in a form that will be understood higher up the hierarchy. Technical issues always have to be dumbed down, remember the higher it goes the simpler it needs to be, make it kindergarten level if necessary.

What if you parsed the reporting requirement top-down?

What I mean by this is, what if you asked the top layer of management if they regularly read the information you and your teams spend hours preparing? Is the information helpful to them in decision making, setting the strategic direction of the business or does it fall on sterile land?

You might be quite surprised to learn that the answer is often that  management only look occasionally when they are alerted to an issue, some elements of your reporting they will never look at at all, but they typically trust that it is there if they want it but they are unlikely to tell you about the elements that they never look at.

We have all heard about business dashboards, we all drive cars and refer to dashboards but have you noticed how over the years the data presented to the driver has simplified or is dumbed down? No longer do we have an ammeters showing charging rates, temperature gauges, oil pressure gauges etc. All we have is a few warning lights because frankly as the driver that’s all you need and even then its only the ‘red’ ones that would make a driver stop ASAP!

5 Steps to More Effective Reporting

  1. Figure out what the “driver(s)” of the business really need to know to navigate the business to the strategic destination, just enter into a dialogue and ask them! Don’t process and report what they don’t need.
  2. Never allow ad-hoc subjective assessment or distillation of business information, this leads to periodic inconsistencies and lack of trust from the “driver”, systemize it!
  3. Put in systems that allow “drill down”, the best way to do this is with a consistent business information database such that all analysis routes drill down to a common data substrate.
  4. Minimise human intervention, “man-draulics”, we have all heard the excuse, “we were unable to produce the XYZ report in the pack this month because John Smith is on vacation”.
  5. Make the information suitable for the audience, make technical backup data available but never “front-of-stage”, and don’t waste everyone’s energy by reporting information that may do nothing but distract the “driver(s)”, they have an important task of getting the entire company to the strategic destination intact and on-time.

2 responses to “Report What Matters!

  1. Well written and “spot on” on several fronts. That said business processes (most of our endeavors within corporate frameworks are driven by business impetuses) are founded on human engagements or collaborations. The “driver(s) of the business”, must at all times remain cognizant of this undeniable fact and refrain from wanting “kindergarten level” descriptions from these complex engagements.

    Soliciting “Green”, “Yellow” or “Red” status labels against these activities is often a recipe for disaster. With these meaningless labels, “driver(s) of the business” stand the risk of isolating themselves from and missing out on details of business anomalies that they ought to focus their energies to rectifying.

    Across the board, bottoms up/ top down, organizations should really seek out to “REPORT ON WHAT MATTERS”

    • Mark, thanks for the excellent comment. I think we have all worked in organisations where RAG (Red Amber Green) reporting can be misleading, one man’s Amber is another man’s Red so removing subjective and time variable assignments to RAG is essential. I remember an old IBM ad where a technologist is trying to explain an issue to a manager and has to keep dumbing the message down until he gets it, first ‘College’ then ‘Grade School’ then ‘Kindergarten’. Successful communication always needs to consider the context that the receiver puts around it. See my recent post “Send Three & Fourpence Were Going to a Dance”.

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