Two of the most successful productivity tools in existence today are spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. These two desktop applications have undoubtedly changed how we conduct business and allow us to analyse and present information concisely. It is not difficult to become a PowerPoint expert. Gaining the knowledge required to use spreadsheets is a little more complicated but still within the grasp of anyone interested in reporting. With these tools, we have all become data gurus. And therein lays a problem.
The personal spreadsheet problem
We are all so confident we can manipulate spreadsheets to obtain data and present it in all manner of colourful charts that we do just that. We undertake even more analysis monthly and create brighter and more complex charts. But do they give us what we need to effectively run our business or organisation? Sometimes. But this method of review is not optimal. A monthly review has to do many things, and one of the most important is providing consistent reporting over a sustained period.
Agree on your KPIs
Consistent reporting means agreeing on a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that contribute to business objectives that are clearly defined, rated as critical and have ownership. Take a look at our e-book How to Develop Meaningful KPIs for more information on this subject. For more information on developing meaningful KPIs. The information these KPIs provide must be delivered in a consistent format month on month. That format has to allow managers/leaders to quickly see if the business is performing to the required levels.
Usually, this requires that you set performance thresholds. That is, what is good, bad and indifferent must be agreed in advance. By doing this, you can add the familiar red/amber/green colour code to help visualise performance. Providing a visual interpretation can be useful if it is not overly complex. See our article Common Mistakes when building dashboards. Most importantly, the visual experience must be the same every month.
Consistent monthly reporting
Using PowerPoint and Excel often gives rise to adding or modifying KPIs to a report to tell the story the author wants to tell. Consistency in reported KPIs over a sustained period is essential to ensure trends can be observed. There is a need to see historical data and the current month’s results. Historical data can be a potent tool to help determine a course of action. It will show if an effort is required immediately for an anomaly. And define a course of non-action where an overall trend is improving despite a dip in a current month.
Clearly, we need to use all of the tools available to us to examine the business. PowerPoint and spreadsheets will always be beneficial. However, in recent years it has become imperative to use any of a new breed of reporting tools to enhance your monthly reports. These tools allow you to:
- Define a consistent set of KPIs.
- Link to your existing system to extract data.
- Allocate objective and KPI ownership.
- Identify individuals who are responsible for the update.
- Create automated dashboards and presentations.
- Export data in multiple formats.
- Align your teams to the organisation’s purpose.
It will come as no surprise that we recommend the strategy and KPI management tool Spider Impact. Why not take a look by requesting a 30-day free trial?