3 Ways to Improve Data Reporting

It’s happening. Again. Another data reporting meeting off the rails. Multiple sidebar discussions. Executives rattling off a stream of unanswerable questions. Analysts helplessly trying to keep the conversation focused on the data available. Why does every reporting meeting seem so unproductive?

When Big Data Goes Bad
As organizations strive to improve their cultures and become more data-driven, meetings like this undermine the efforts and give people pause as to whether these efforts are really worth the hassle. Suddenly, all the goodwill associated with analytics and data evaporates. All because of a lousy meeting. This is a problem. But it doesn’t have to be.

The problem is not the meeting, the people in attendance, or even the format or substance of the report. The problem is not taking the steps upfront to lay a foundation for reporting efforts to succeed. This must happen well in advance of the first reporting meeting. Take these three steps to make sure you don’t have the above, unpleasant experience in the future.

1) Answer the Magic Question
Reporting should focus on a goal. Answering the question, “what are we trying to accomplish, and how do we know when it happens?” should be the main point of reporting. Without answering this question, most reports will be filled with pseudo-metrics that may appear to describe progress. But in reality, they are nothing more than snackable data points that will leave you feeling unsatsified in the end. Take the time to figure out what success looks like, how long it will take to get there and what metrics will show progress toward your goal and prove that you hit it.

2) Draft a Measurement Plan
To be intentional with your reporting, draft a measurement plan. If you’re not taking the time to figure out what you care about, where you’ll get the data and how you’ll bring the data into the report, why bother with reporting in the first place? Not only does a measurement plan address the reporting details, it sets everyone’s expectations. Everyone coming to the meeting will know what data will be made available, where it came from and its purpose on the report. A simple measurement plan can include the following:

  • Key performance indicators and supporting metrics to be included on the report
  • Data capture tools and methodology
  • Owners responsible for providing data and process for pulling report together
  • Data delivery methods and frequency of report delivery
  • Rules of engagement for reporting meetings and desired outcome of reporting discussions

3) Build a Simple Report
Software developers hate scope creep — when the list of features and functions that need to be created continues to grow, but no adjustments are made to delivery deadlines, adjustments that acknowledge the time it takes to deliver each feature and function. Similarly, analysts hate report scope creep — where the list of questions continue to grow, along with the number of metrics the report needs to track. But no adjustments are made to the purpose of the report or the time made available to construct the report. The key is to keep it simple and agree on a core set of questions and metrics. Following the first two steps, this should be simple to accomplish.

Reporting  Progress
Reporting is a summarized snapshot in time of your progress toward a goal. A reporting meeting should be about progress against the priorities you care about. Reporting is not designed to provide every data-driven detail in a single report. Dashboards can keep you up to speed on the latest data. Similarly, discovering new insights and uncovering new truths from the data is an entirely different exercise, one that should be done in a different meeting.

An old adage says “a problem well defined is half solved.” This rings true for reporting. If you can define the question or questions to be answered, come up with a plan to get the right information to the right people and create a simple deliverable to clearly communicate progress, then your reporting efforts will be an effective and efficient way to deliver results.

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Mitch Dunn
Mitch Dunn

As the SVP of Integrated Strategy at Empower, Mitch ensures that consumer insights are at the heart of every decision Empower makes on behalf of our clients.