If seeing really is believing, then user-focused reporting one of the most effective ways to convince stakeholders and end users to take action. A well-designed report, populated with relevant analytics, condenses even complex information into an accessible form, so that viewers can extract at-a-glance insights and streamline their decision-making processes.
In this way, good reporting is an effective remedy to the problems of information overload. Many workers regularly waste considerable time searching for the right data points, unsure of where they’re located or whether they’re even fresh or applicable to the questions at hand. Reports and other data visuals cut through the noise—as long they’re tailored to match user requirements and supported by reliable data sources as well as sustainable processes.
The recipe for practical, useful reporting
A report is only as good as its level of adoption—perfect design counts for nothing if the data surfaced doesn’t mean anything to the audience. Ensuring that it does requires a multi-step process, beginning with user and stakeholder input.
1. Gathering and synthesizing input
The data presented in a report should provide clear answers to specific questions from stakeholders and users, such as “Why is our Net Promoter Score declining?” or “What is the sales forecast for the next quarter?” A report will ideally provide the insights that can be turned into corresponding actions. That might mean it illustrates a key relationship between business trends or supplies a real-time stream of information that serves as a vital sign of a project’s status.
Interviews with users and stakeholders will clarify which questions are most in need of the answers that reporting can provide. Use clear language and gather continuous feedback so that you always have your finger on the pulse of the primary audience—these steps help you determine which KPIs and data sources to incorporate.
As part of the interview process with both users and stakeholders, you will also define what the user action should be, based on the data. By thinking through what the exact user action should be before you build the report, you will be able to drive impactful change in the business.
2. Optimizing data sources
Just as it’s a good idea to regularly connect with the people who will use the reports, you should also kick the tires on the underlying data that will support your creations. It’s far from being a given that everything will be perfectly set up for a sophisticated report without requiring some optimization and fine-tuning first.
Without getting too far into the weeds, the technological issues associated with building good reports run the gamut from storage-related challenges that might necessitate new and additional cloud computing services, to the need for middleware to glue together disparate systems. An experienced partner with a technology-agnostic approach can navigate these risks and many others en route to building the right infrastructure for sustaining your reporting.
3. Managing change and iterating on success
According to Aristotle, excellence is a habit, not an act. This wisdom is as relevant as ever for reporting systems, which require continuous attention to remain valuable to end users and stakeholders.
For example, ongoing trainings can help employees prepare for new project rollouts and learn the ropes early, perhaps even through carefully structured pilot phases. Compiling user feedback is also the perfect bookend to a process that began with gathering user input on initial requirements. This feedback is invaluable when expanding upon an originally sparse design and making decisions about particular elements like colors and layouts.
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Nick Kelly is the Director of Visual Analytics at Logic20/20. He is a hands-on leader in analytics with over 16 years of international experience in analytics and software development, deployment, adoption, and user experience.