A Report Building Blueprint

By Nicholas Church, 04/04/2022

Well-designed reports make it easy for end users to get the information they need to do a better job. Whether it’s monitoring daily operations, running ad hoc analysis to investigate problems or exploring data for new growth opportunities, the key to a great report is to understand your target audience — who they are, what problems they face, what information they need and how they will use it. In this blog post we take a look at steps you should consider when starting out on the process.

1. Identify the audience

The first step is to make an exhaustive list of all the stakeholders, decision makers and end users for your report. This will give you a clear idea about the target audience and the information required. Where possible, schedule meetings with all the relevant stakeholders to gather all the reporting requirements from them. At this point you would also be wise to consider the context and politics involved! Be aware of, and avoid, treading on toes!

2. Identify reporting requirement

When you conduct your interviews, it’s essential to understand how your target audience hopes to use your reports. The answers to the following questions should guide you here:

  • Why do you need this report?
  • What will you do with the information?
  • Who else will use this report?
  • How frequently will they use this report?

3. Identify the KPIs and metrics for the report

Once you know your requirements, you can then create a list of KPIs and metrics to display on reports, based on the underlying requirements you have already collected. Go back and ask stakeholders what they think they need to see:

  • Which metrics and KPIs do you currently monitor?
  • Which reports do you currently use to track these metrics?
  • Do you have sample reports for reference?
  • What data would you like to add to / remove / change from these reports?
  • What are you missing?

It's very tempting to ask users what they want to see in their reports, but try to avoid that. Believe in your requirements gathering process to produce the required reports.

4. Identify the data sources

Once you have a list of metrics that you want to display on your reports, you need to consider where to get the data to measure it.

  • What is the data source for each metric?
  • Do you have all the data available?
  • How easy is it to extract data?
  • If not, can you build new processes to collect it?
  • Will you need to obtaion additional date from external sources?
  • Is there a cost to getting the data?

In case of any concerns / limitations, go back to the stakeholders to discuss them and possible next steps. It may take two to three iterations, but by the end your users will have a good idea of what to expect in your reports.

5. Choose the right graph for each metric

Different graphs tell different stories. It’s important to choose the right ones or you risk confusing the reader. Remember, a picture tells a thousand words so think about maps, icons and images that inform the reader, intuitively, what the information being showed.

7. Layout

Once you’ve decided on the metrics and information to display, arrange them in an easy-to-understand manner. We know that our eyes start from the top left corner of the page. As we read the page, they move from left to right, in Z-shaped patterns, so display the most important and urgent information on the top left corner of your reports. Low-priority and slow-changing information should be displayed in the bottom half of your report.

8. Highlight key information

Try not to pack your report with a lot of information which can quickly become visually distracting. Keep referring back and asking: “does this tell my story?”. Guide the users to the right numbers and trends, using visual cues, such as using colours to highlight critical information

9. Group related KPIs and metrics

One of the most effective ways to draw connections within the data is to group related information together on the report. Conversely, if you place related information far apart, it can cause confusion and make it difficult for users to see the connection

10. Get a sign off on the mock-ups

Once you are happy with the mock-ups, go back to the stakeholders and get their approval, as they are the ones who’ll be using your reports on a regular basis. Ensure they understand the information presented, and also how to use them.

This is a collaborative and iterative process which can take weeks as the stakeholders may not be sure what they want see on their reports or how they want it presented.

If possible, get written sign off for your mock-ups so you can begin building the actual reports. This will help to ward off unnecessary changes that may delay delivery. Otherwise, you’ll keep getting change requests throughout your implementation.

If you want some help to decide on the right graphs and performance measures to track progress and strategic objectives for your business, then why not have an informal chat with us?

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