Anyone in a job similar to mine is inundated with outward reporting requests.
When we were growing up, this was not a big problem. We could work perfectly well with two or three key reports that could easily be used to steer the company.
The story has changed significantly since we became big and part of a group. The number of reports we have to produce has increased disproportionately, and we suffer from it.
This is simply because our size is much smaller than the giant we are part of.
I am not questioning whether our reports can help delve into the company’s health. I ask that the time spent making these reports erodes time from the few available resources. The effect of this is that we produce reports, and the time to interpret them diminishes more and more.
I believe that a report should be able to provide several insights:
– Represent a snapshot of the state of things. Are we generating the revenues we anticipated? Is the level of expenses within the range we envisioned? Is the amount of qualified incoming leads sufficient to cover our needs? How much overtime are people doing?
– It needs to provide a vision of the future as far as possible. How many projects are coming in over the next few weeks? Do we have enough resources to cover the needs of the projects?
– It must be able to point out weak signals that need to be intercepted in time so that we can react quickly. How is our average rate trending over time, and what are the phenomena causing it to fluctuate?
Unfortunately, there is often no material time to be able to conduct this kind of analysis as thoroughly as possible. Deadline trumps interpretation of the data. This is, of course, bad.
We are not yet in the ideal situation, but we are adapting to reach it.
A series of actions will lead us to a much more helpful situation:
– Raise everyone’s awareness of the quality of the data they produce and put it into the constellation of systems that makes this shack work. This is one of the critical elements. Time wasted by people chasing after missing or erroneous data erodes even more of their time.
– Try to automate the report production process as much as possible. Some systems depend on each other and feed off each other. We are trying to make sure that everything can happen automatically. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. I have been fighting for years to ensure that all the systems we use internally and at the group level expose APIs that allow us automation. We have entirely succeeded at the internal systems level; at the external systems level, we are still working on it.
– Distribute the production of reports within functions so that the workload does not burden one entity.
– Make maximum use of the capacity of the systems themselves to provide qualitative analysis of the data. Salesforce’s Einstein is an example of this approach.
– Quality and not quantity. Depending on your role in the company, the granularity of the report must fit your function and need. In the same way, everyone does not efficiently use a data set. If you can distill the data ex-ante, people will not have to waste time filtering, to extract, and sorting the data according to their needs.
– Automate the dissemination of reports. We are still a little behind, but the idea is to avoid the classic mechanism: I generate the report, export it to my computer, and send it to stakeholders via e-mail.
Finally, one should always ask whether a report is necessary or not and ask why it needs to be produced—as always, answering yes regardless is a big mistake.
Report production is an art.