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I have an aversion to reading reports. Weird, right? I’ve written before about how much I read every day and those who’ve worked  with me know that I’m constantly wanting to discuss tidbits of information I’ve found someplace to see if they could move our business forward.  But those tidbits aren’t reports – they’re usually from the web or print publications.  Really useful reports are hard to find and I have a theory as to why.One of the exercises we did when I ran a department was to get the department together, either in person (preferably) or virtually and hold up each regular report someone generated.  I’d ask who received it, if they read it and if they found it useful.  Finally I’d ask if the report went away would their ability to do their job would be impacted in any way.  I’d move on to external recipients and ask the same question.  That exercise alone eliminated a good chunk of the regular paperwork we used to churn out.

The problem is this:  most reports – web analytics, sales figures, whatever – are NOT designed to answer business questions.  They’re designed to spit out data points which may or may not be relevant, even if they were when the report was first generated.  Most of the people who receive, for example, web traffic reports have no clue about the flaws inherent in collecting the data.   They ask if people are spending more time on the site without understanding that it’s really difficult to get an accurate reading on that stat (I won’t go into a technical explanation here – it makes my head hurt and probably will do the same to yours).

More importantly, what are they going to do with that information?  Do they think more time on site is a good thing?  Really?  Even if you’re running an on-line store?  How does time on site correlate to shopping cart abandonment?  Maybe that extra time on site means shoppers can’t find what they want and are bailing without completing a purchase?  Maybe the checkout process is too onerous and takes too long – more time on site though!

Ask yourself and your staff (if you have one) why every report is put together.  What is the business question it helps answer and does it do so effectively?  You’ll be shocked how much more time you and your folks will have to do real work instead of pushing paper (or electrons!).

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2 responses to “Reports

  1. Pingback: Looking at Two Trends « Consult Keith

  2. John McCarthy

    Nice description of Continuous Improvement as it relates to reporting and data. So much of what people in an office environment do on a regular basis is done because “we’ve always done it.” Good reminder that we need to regularly ask ourselves Why?

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