A Data Report Building Blueprint

By Nicholas Church, 04/04/2022

Well-designed reports make it effortless 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 take into consideration when starting out on the process of creating a concise report that caters to your users’ needs.

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 provide a clear idea about the target audience and the required information.

Where possible, schedule meetings with all the relevant stakeholders to gather all the reporting requirements. At this point it is advisable to consider the context and politics involved.

2. Identify reporting requirement

When the interviews are conducted, it’s essential to understand how your target audience hopes to use your reports. The following questions should serve as an efficient guide:

  • 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

You can then create a list of KPIs and metrics to display on reports, based on the underlying requirements you have already collected. Ask the key people involved in this process the following:

  • 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?

Don’t rely on users’ wants, and perhaps sometimes unrealistic, expectations of the reports. Believe in your requirements gathering process to produce the required reports.

4. Identify the data sources

According to the list of metrics that has now been determined, the next thing up for consideration is where to get the data to measure it.

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

It may take two to three iterations of going back and forth with your end users about their concerns and possible limitations. Ultimately that does have its advantages, as they will have gained a good understanding of the report’s capabilities.

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. Imagery usually helps clarify any process, so consider maps, icons and images that the reader can intuitively understand.

7. Layout

Once you’ve decided on the metrics and information to display, arrange them in an approachable and understandable manner. The top left corner of a page attracts the most attention of the human eye, so make sure to accentuate your information appropriately.

8. Highlight key information

An easy mistake to make is displaying too much information, which can become visually distracting or even overwhelming. 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 make necessary conclusions.

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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