Ask the Right Question, Get the Report Right

Considered an “expert” in the realm of Business Analytics, I like to think my customers learn a thing or two from me.  Equally so, I learn a lot from them.

“When I sit down with the business I don’t ask them what report they want me to write. I ask them what decision they want to make.”

Honest words spoken by an IT manager across the other side of the world – so profound the ripple effect has travelled across the Pacific Ocean to the land of Oz.  Words that entirely make sense, and yet it got me thinking – how many of us are asking the right questions when it comes to analysing data?

The fact is, we could invest countless amounts of time and effort creating a report that met a defined set of specifications but never actually supports the decision we are trying to make.  When have you ever wondered “If I just had one more table I could get the right answer” or “If only this pie chart used earthly colours I’d be able to make my decision“?

Using an outcome-focused approach, we can ensure the appropriate information is contained in the report to support making the right decision.  This raises the right topics for discussion – how decisions are made, why decisions have sometimes been sub-optimum, and what information is needed to ensure the decision maker has all the information they need to make the right decision.

Of course, at some point we need to address the way information is visualised.  There-in lies the beauty of the IBM Cognos dashboards. The consumer can personalise their workspace to view information in a way that they can easily interpret and understand – whether that be a table, pie chart, histogram etc.  As long as the right information is available in their report, they can find the answers they need.

Have you ever heard the saying “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig“?  That’s how I would decsribe a great looking report that doesn’t give you the information you need to make the right decision.  Putting the focus on the decision that needs to be made will get you the highly-valued report you need…on which you can still apply the right shade of lipstick!