Are You Playing the Telephone Game in Your Reporting?

As a child, you may have played the game called, Telephone.  It is where people sit in a circle and one whispers a statement into the ear of the person sitting next to them.  It continues until everyone has had a turn to heard to relay the statement until it reaches the last person who sits  before the original whisperer.  Then, that last person says the statement.   Almost every time, what they say and what the original person said are never the same.  It can create quite a few giggles at a slumber party, but in business, it is rarely a good thing because,  it is a distortion of reality.  It us fairly safe to say  that if managers are making decisions on what is not real, then it is very easy to make wrong decisions.  When data is trickling upward through layers of people in an organization through hearsay, it is likely that the answers are going to be distorted. If you company is using multiple reports and sources to provide answers to basic questions, then it may be time to revise your reporting strategy.  You may not be getting answers from the data that you think you are.

So how exactly can data get distorted in reporting? After all, it is usually just a matter of numbers and simple math.  There are a few reasons this could happen:

  1. Somewhere along the reporting path there may be a different perception of what the question is or how it should be answered
  2. The question asked of the actual person who answered the question was not answering your question in its entirety
  3. Different and conflicting resources may be needed to provide the answer
  4. There may be a variable in time frame from when the question was asked to when the answer was delivered
  5. People tend to tell superiors what they want to hear and will deliver the news in a manner that hides a problem

So the challenge becomes getting low level performance statistics through multiple layers of management.  The larger the company is, the larger this problem becomes. No one is intentionally lying, but the answers are distorted all the same. The only way to avoid this is to place an automated process behind the questions where you rely on their answers to make decisions and run your business.  This is  the underlying theory of Business Intelligence.  Direct your questions to your data and actual facts and real numbers will answer them.  You know best how the answers can be derived, how you want them delivered to you and when you want them.  Automation allows you to take control of this process.  What may be even more important is make sure everyone in the company can see what those questions and answers are, so everyone may operating from the same page.   It is this understanding of the KPI that creates a culture of success in performance.  It is automation that enables the understanding.  If you are the only one receiving the answers, then it may not be fair to hold people accountable if the answers are repeatedly not the ones you want to see.

If to correlate this to the Telephone game, the value of automating and communicating your reporting is to be certain that the question or statement will be the same regardless of the position of who speaks up in the corporate circle.

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Taking Time to Sharpen Your Tools

Reports drive a business.  Managers look at them to measure performance, make key decisions and set the path for the company going forward. When the tool that is used to guide this process is a report, it makes sense to spend a little time to ensure it provides the right information and is easy to use. The reasons vary: budget for IT, no one responsible for the system that produces the report or just too many different users to easily find a consensus. The challenge is to find a way to get enough time to put the necessary people into a meeting and then find a way to make changes. The cost can be high in terms of management time, but the rewards can be greater by saving them time every day as they use the improved report. Once the right team is assembled it is important to make sure a great report is the result.

One technique to consider when designing a new report or updating an old one is to ask “Is our current reporting just showing us statistics, or telling us exactly what we need to know?” 

Think back to first grade when the kids had  ‘Show and Tell’. The student proudly shows her painting. The teacher knows there a tree in that work of art, but unsure of the rest of it.  So, she asks the child what it is.  21656507_sThe child then tells all she needs to  know to tell what the picture is  to tell the child it is wonderful.  It wasn’t until that second bit of information came from the child, that she really saw the whole picture.

Too many reports used in companies are working with the same the same lack of substance, but they are not nearly as cute and fun to deal with.  Back Office Systems are very good at providing numbers with totals.   But typically,  most companies using back-office systems to get information,  find that it takes a correlation of several reports to be able to get the information they really need.  They have been working in that realm for so long, it doesn’t even bother them for it has just become routine.  One has to wonder if they ever added the amount of time it is taking them to get to the answers they really want?

Sometimes the way to best fix a report, is to merge it. Not just remove it, but rather make it part of the other reports that you must link. Sometimes, of course, you need both. The point is to take enough time to get the critical information (not just the data) into a simple format. It is much more cost effective to take the time to program all the linkages to have the insights standing out in easy view.

The tools available are great at linking and share the data. The work, however, is the key. The intelligence that derives is from the insights and experience of the team. The tools are able to capture that and make it easy to save time and show what the team needs to know.

When looking for a Business Intelligence tool you want to find one that works for you and not the reverse.   It is prudent to ask the question:

Do I know exactly what to do when I see the results on this report?

The closer one gets to answering yes, the better off they will be.  It is best to look for tools that will provide answers as opposed to just showing the statistics. It will shorten analysis time, reduce the amount of needed, improve and present the actual vision of what is going on and decisions can be made more quickly.05202015 Map

Sales by Category, over time.

Sales by Category, over time.

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