Create kick-ass reports that engage your audience — and spend half the time doing it.
Let’s be honest, nobody likes reporting. So how can we make the process so much better for everyone?
We’ve all experienced it. We’ve all fallen into the trap of spending hours putting together a powerpoint pack that’s not only way too detailed, but hard for the reader to digest — if they read it at all. The reality is most organisations spend way too much time updating and writing information into packs, instead of simply talking and communicating with each other.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. And rest assured, there are easy solutions to this systemic problem. Creating automated reports is a means to scale and support human interaction and communication, while at the same time ensuring we don’t replace it.
How much time are we really spending on different activities?
This article by Deloitte puts it in a whole new, and terrifying, light: organisations spend 48% of their time creating reports and only 18% communicating with each other. In the chart highlights the average time organisations spend on different activities, with the green bar depicting how much time organisations actually want to spend on those same activities.
Here’s a real life example:
One of the clients I worked with produced a monthly report, due to senior management on the 28th day of each month. Teams were required to compile the data and create the first cut of that report by the 15th, allowing enough time for their managers to review and tweak it. Assuming everything went to plan, the final report being reviewed by company directors was at least 2 weeks old at best.
Unfortunately this is all too common.
Here’s how to spend half the time on reporting.
1. Decide Upfront What Needs To Be Reported
First you need to get clear about the kind of work you’re doing and how you’re going to collaborate with your colleagues. In the HBR article ‘Don’t let teamwork get in the way of agility’ the authors talk about the importance of knowing what kind of team work needs to take place.
For example, synchronised project delivery — like designers working closely with developers — requires a different approach for communication and reporting when compared to a hand-off type project delivery, where the work moves through the system between people or teams.
The takeaway? Get clear about what’s really meaningful to report on and communicate before you get started. Then, regularly revisit its meaningfulness, and update what you need to report on, so you remain effective. Don’t create ineffective and uninformative reports for the sake of reporting.
2. Determine Where The Data Comes From
Next you have to get clear about where the data for your reports is coming from. Reports are like blood test results — there should be no argument about whether the stats are accurate or not. You might argue that the numbers don’t paint the full picture as there are lots of external factors that have an impact — and you’re right. So you’ll need human analysis to provide the expertise and context that raw statistics and numbers simply can’t.
One of the most common problems is that a lot of us spend hours creating an argument in a report, and then look for the numbers to back it up. Be honest, we’ve all done it. If we take an 80/20 approach, 80% of your report should be facts and statistics and 20% should be your (or the experts) analysis to provide context which the data can’t in its raw format.
3. Create The Report
This should be the easiest part of the equation, but for some reason people spend hours — or days — writing (and rewriting) a pack that is going to be presented to managers multiple levels up the food chain.
Let’s get real. It’s 2020. I’ll apologise in advance to the advocates out there — powerpoint is dead. Live communication is more powerful and meaningful than any 10, 20 or 50 page powerpoint pack.
Live dashboards are a more efficient and effective way of communicating updates. Create a live dashboard and enable it to pull statistics and data directly into the report. Once it’s set up, focus your attention on the analysis of the numbers in order to give a meaningful update on the real story you need to tell your audience.
In this article Seth Godin talks about bringing back bulletin boards. Remember those? They were basically an old school analog dashboard where you’d go to find out your exam results and footy practice timetable. What’s key here is making sure we don’t hide the important information in a powerpoint pack, somewhere in the depths of your company’s sharepoint. Instead, make it easily accessible and very simple to find and digest.
You don’t need to be a gatekeeper of your reports — in fact it’s better if you can step out of the way and let people find what they need, when they need it.
Tip For Reporting Pros
Have you ever created a report that someone else was presenting, and you were worried that the main point is not actually going to land with the audience? Or that there are so many items on the meeting agenda and there won’t be any time left for your update?
Like we said before, it’s 2020. Why not try a video update? Using tools like Loom, you can now create a 5 minute video update and share a link around with your audience (or the whole organisation), clearly articulating your point in your own words with your own tone and body language. Revolutionary.
At Beaker & Flint we make videos almost every day, and sometimes even multiple times a day. Videos are more engaging and take less time to create. Also, your audience is more likely to watch a short 2–5 minute video as opposed to reading a 500 word document. Or paying attention in your ‘updates’ meeting.
Why do you need to change the way you do reporting, right now?
Well you don’t, if you want to keep creating obsolete reports that don’t convey the key message and engage your audience.
We spend too much time talking about measures that aren’t meaningful or helpful for tracking whether we’re going to be successful or not.
We spend way too much time having to create powerpoint packs instead of allowing technology to do the heavy lifting for us.
Our analysis of the data is the value we bring in a report. It’s our expertise to convey context and the story that’s untold by data that really makes us valuable as human employees. That’s where we should focus.
If you don’t do anything else, just try this. Next time you’re tempted to write an essay on important updates and email it to your team on a Friday afternoon, try recording a quick Loom video instead. It will take you less than 5 minutes. Verbal communication conveys tone, seriousness, urgency or humour in a way that no written word could. What’s more, people might actually engage with it. Use short and snappy videos to capture your audience and deliver a message instead of that lengthy email or document. On behalf of your audience, please give it a go!