Five changes you need to make to increase reporting engagement

Studies show that we all want to be more data driven; to use data to make better decisions. It’s a fine aim. 

Every business produces some level of reporting. Maybe a simple tabular view, maybe interactive visualisations, perhaps a full dashboard.

So, if we have the desire to use data and the means to access it, why aren't we? Perhaps the answer lies in user engagement with reporting. Simply put: the right data, the right content, the wrong delivery.

What is the right delivery for reports? Here are five rules to follow that will increase users' reporting engagement.

  1. Less Is More

Prioritise your business critical metrics or KPIs; the four or five numbers that drive your business. You should know what these are, if not, there are plenty of online articles to start your thinking.

Avoid throwing every number into the report you can think of. A key measure you used in a previous role may not be suitable for the business you now work in. A small number of leading and lagging metrics should be sufficient based on your strategic and operational objectives.

  1. "Just the facts, Ma'am" 

Identify the data that drives the KPI numbers: sales growth, working capital, stock turnover, customer satisfaction. The tricky part here is whether you have all the data needed. If not, that’s a whole other discussion. So, I’d suggest concentrating on the metrics that you already have data for.

Avoid including every data point, column, or table you have access to, "just in case". Not only will reducing the data you include increase a reports performance (and benefit the user experience), but you'll allow the key KPIs to stand clear of the noise of day to day transactional systems.

  1. Context is Everything

Produce a simple report to present this data using your reporting tool of choice. For each KPI, ensure you highlight the latest value, show the value (trend) over time, and include tabular data to drill into (I’m assuming you aren’t printing these reports!).

Avoid a number in isolation; "42" tells us nothing. Is it good or bad? On target or not? Better or worse than last week, last month, or last year? Context, such as a comparator, adds meaning and supports user understanding. Apply "just the facts" to the context too, only include sufficient data to support user insight without it becoming overwhelming.

  1. Spread the Word (or Number)

Distribute [electronically] to everyone, whether they need the numbers for their job role or not. Increasing reporting engagement starts from a position of sharing information widely and allowing everyone to understand the organisations performance.

Avoid keeping information within a tightknit group. Secrets breed disinformation, and once they take hold, no amount of accurate data will counter the rumours. Make the KPI numbers actionable by everyone in the business; if something is down that shouldn't be, what can every do to turn the arrow upwards?

  1. A Man Walks Into a Bar…

And when you’re producing your reports, remember: a report is like a joke – if it needs explaining, then it’s no good!