The means of presenting data has evolved to keep pace with the levels of information we need to receive in order to function. The hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of pages of fan-fold reports of 25 years ago have now been replaced with dashboards and highly visual interpretations of important information.
There is a constant struggle of being seen as increasingly innovative in the display and consumption of information and there is no place this is exemplified more than when we are at work. However, I believe there are three guiding principles that should be supported by data visualisations:
- Am I doing the right thing?
- Are my team doing the right thing?
- Is my organisation doing the right thing?
What is the right thing? That’s for you and the business to decide, but the alignment of those guiding principles when designing your reporting strategy are key to maximising the impact of what is produced. What is the point in a report about my actions if they cannot show to what extent I am helping my team and organisation? Surely the team needs to know that its collective efforts are advancing the business? And finally, the organisation itself must want to know that the collective efforts of the business are taking it in the right direction.
As the strategic direction of an organisation changes with the resulting trickle down of tactics to support that change, the reporting must evolve to support those transformations. In essence, reporting needs to be available wherever we have tactics important enough to impact the overall direction of the organisation. This reporting evolution will also identify those reporting areas that are no longer necessary. Don’t ever be afraid to drop reports that are no longer needed. “We’ve always had that report” is rarely justification enough.
The generation of reports involves considerable skill and understanding of both the organisation and the data that the business uses to function. When combined with people who can visualise those outputs and assess the position of the organisation, that skill and understanding has an impact across the business. As such, it is hard to overstate how important that skill and understanding is: potentially it touches everyone.
Instinct is an important part of business, but then so is something more empirical. Winston Churchill may have put it best:
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”