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Unlock the Power of Effective Operational Reports

Data Communication

Jaime D’Agord



Reports are not new to business, they are a basic requirement. It’s important that reports help the users answer questions so they can be successful.

When done well reports answer questions and rapidly move the company in a data-driven direction. When management understands the value in data, they move more quickly toward analytical maturity.

Here’s some tips on how to improve your reporting.

What is the Report Purpose?

Before any data usage begins, you must identify what question needs to be answered and why it is being asked. Often the business question may not be present as an actual question but as a problem.

Usually, business users do not talk about statistical terms; they only state their work goals. Listen for words that indicate what they need to know or what is needed to drive the business.

Many of these questions or concerns boil down to, “Is my team doing a good job?”

It’s your job to translate the questions and concerns of the business into a useful format.

For instance, a customer service manager states that customers are complaining about responsiveness. How would you know if what the customers were saying was true?

You could measure the age of tickets at each stage. If the company promises to close trouble tickets in seven days, the report shows open tickets over six days old. If the result shows only 95 of a 100 tickets met the criteria, you could agree the requirement was met.

However, if the reverse is true, the company needs to evaluate if there are enough resources to manage the job or if the goal is not achievable. The customer would have been proven correct!

Tips for Effective Operational Reporting

Zencos often discusses creating data stories or dashboards, you must know your target audience. In this case, the target is the managers.

The key to a useful report is uncovering how the business is tracking against goals. The best practices for reports include these traits: automatically generated, available in a central location, and feature a standard format.

Tip 1: Use an automated batch process for consistency

Most reports are generated from a database. The reports are created through an automated process referred to as a batch process.

Batch processing is a series of programs that run during off-hours. During the batch process, data is extracted from a source, changed into useful information, and then placed in reports.

Even if real-time data is used, a clean-up process is still required. Rarely is data ready for display in its raw state. This is what makes real-time reporting such a challenge. The business or counting rules must be applied as quickly as the data is shown.

Tip 2: Drill-down paths should have a quick end

When designing summary reports, be thoughtful about how detailed information is accessed. The way the user gets from summary data to the details is called an information path.

Your user starts at a bar chart. The user clicks a single bar to show what records were counted in that row. Then the user should be at the last step on the path, which is the individual data row.

It is a best practice to limit the clicks to detailed data. Within three clicks, the user should arrive at actionable information.

Study your information paths to ensure the user is not endlessly clicking! Your job is to pull them down the road to reveal the answers they are seeking.

Tip 3: Provide a link to the counting rules

Users must understand what data supports a report so they understand what information is displayed. Modern reports are available in a digital format. Ensure you add a link to the counting rules, which explain the data collection method, data filters, formulas, and what makes a value red or green (to show negative or positive trends).

Users do not always understand what information from the database fuels the report. Some don’t know how their work habits might influence the process results. For instance, if the report measures the timeliness of updates, the employee must update the records as required. If the worker is not doing that the red columns on their detailed report might be a shock.

The counting rules have a second use. They provide new workers with training. They can understand what the business wants to achieve.

Tip 4: Use traffic lighting to focus the user’s attention

Traffic lighting is often used to indicate a process that is out of control. The concept is based on the standard traffic signal. Red means stop! (or alerts to trouble), while green means go or good. In recent years, this method has been criticized. Many report builders using this method have created a circus-look with all of the colors together.

The latest method is to use performance signals. In this method, the table cells are highlighted with gray if they met the intent. The out-of-bound measures are shown with a red border.

This method draws the user’s eye without hiding the data, as shown in the example below.

Reporting is Your First Step

Reporting is the start of analytics maturity. While some consider this task simple, it is vital to the eventual success of the business.

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