We wrote a blog article a few weeks ago about reporting worst practices to help you evaluate current reports, the purpose of this post is to provide guidance when you are starting a new report.

1.  Report purpose is immediately obvious, important information leaps off the page

When we work with clients on business intelligence we review reports currently in use.  In many cases reports are “dumps” of information and the reader then has to wade through hundreds of numbers per page to find important information.  One of the key performance indicators of a report is how many numbers you are putting on a page – simply multiply the number of columns by the average number of rows per page.  For example a 8.5 x 14 report with 15 columns and 30 rows has 450 numbers per page.  Consider reducing the number of columns to make the report easier to read.  Also consider the purpose of the report and use red / yellow / green indicators or a bold font on the key column to make the most information leap off the page.

2.  Intuitive sorting, possible multiple sorts

When you design a report think about how the reader will look for information.  Would they know job numbers if there are hundreds of active jobs or would they know unit numbers if there are hundreds of tenants in a property?  If readers have to flip through multiple pages of a report to find a particular job or tenant you are reducing the effectiveness of the report and the productivity of the reader.  Consider what field the report should sort by and if it makes sense add a sort option to the report parameters to empower the reader to choose how the report appears.

3.  Clear report title

A full title immediately tells the user what the report is for.  Without a useful title, you are asking the reader to spend time reviewing the columns to interpret the report’s purpose.   A report that is sorted by AR balance over 60 days titled “Delinquent Tenants” or “Delinquent Customers” tells the reader exactly what the report is designed for, “AR Report” does not.

4.  Beautiful Design

Most of the time spent building reports is spent in formula creation and testing to ensure the numbers are right.  As people are generally pressed for time they often publish the report as soon as it is working.  Add a step to your report construction process before you start building the report – formatting.  It only takes a few minutes to put sections in  a report, bold totals and section headers, put page breaks in, add your logo and use a nice font.   Readers appreciate a nicely formatted report and you can take pride in a beautiful report.

5.  Add Date / Time Stamp

Ensure all of your reports have a date / time stamp – otherwise people rerun reports many times not knowing if the information is current enough for a decision.  For example a commitment status report run yesterday afternoon is often okay to review today but an AR listing run 2 days ago isn’t current enough to review.

We’ll be writing more posts about report design, as always we appreciate any feedback or ideas you can share.