Great reports aren’t a coincidence

 

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they may make as they fly by.” -Douglas Adams

 

Many people are looking for a breakthrough in productivity, or a new way of looking at the same old problem, that will allow them to do better work. 

Recently, I was on what I’ll lovingly refer to as an analysis bender. You know, one of those nights before your big report is due, and the report you’ve been working on all week long still doesn’t have the ah-ha bullet point you’ve been searching for. The data that the boss has asked for has been pulled. The good old standbys like top pages, top downloads or top links – the things that rarely yield insight but are more due diligence are all there. Now it’s time to find some reports that tell an interesting story of what was happening on the site. Four hours pass and there’s little to show for it, like a fat man on a stationary bicycle – you’re breaking a sweat but hardly going anywhere. Well, during this analysis bender I received a little guidance that got me through it and has changed the way I work from here on out.

 

Start by asking questions.

Analysis can quickly turn into a money pit, and combing over data doesn’t always provide a quick answer. Being in this position, I learned it’s helpful to first start identifying what questions need to be answered. Probably something you started doing at the beginning of the analysis but lost sight of once you looked at 20 different reports. For instance, how did the new banner campaign on XYZ site perform – a lot of time was spent in tailoring the message to this audience, was it effective? Come up with a list of these questions, then start thinking about which have the highest value.

 

Answer the questions and see what stands out.

Next take a look at the data that’s available and see what really pops out when attempting to answer the questions, and take notes. By now there should be a list of questions and answers, but not tables – we haven’t even started to pull the data! If nothing interesting has popped up yet continue looking at the data and adding new questions until you’ve found the ah-ha bullet point.

 

Create a report outline.

Now compare the findings against the stated website goals and rank the findings in order of importance to the audience. This will allow for the assignment of time investment and ensure the most important findings are covered. Next, create an outline of exactly what the report should look like and make sure that one interesting observation we’ve been looking for is present. If it’s not, start asking more questions, then answer them. Repeat this process until you’re happy with the findings.  

That’s it! I’d like my book deal please. After a long week of working on my report, I determined that I had been starting in the wrong place. How easy is it to get in a routine of pulling the same data each month? Very easy. I’ve seen it happen at various companies and when it happens, critical data isn’t being captured that could be leaving money on the table.

Your boss has always wanted to look at views of the cute videos on your website, to see what the most popular one is. However they never change, the featured video is always the most popular, so clearly the insight isn’t coming from that report this month – but they wanted it, so it’s there. I’m not suggesting the report your boss asked for should be tossed out, just don’t get in the habit of looking at the same reports each month for insight and then being disappointed when you have to continue searching. Bland reports that look at the same thing each month rarely add value, so start by asking questions. As well, your boss may only know what h/she thinks h/she wants to see. Since you see the full picture, take advantage of the opportunity to impress the audience with unexpected data that really tells the best story of what’s happening on the site.

Alternatively, if your reports have been looking a little bland this month, I recommend trying my method and seeing what new and interesting directions the report can take. Be smarter by coming up with an outline of interesting findings and knowing you have a solid report, rather than spending time pulling data and crossing your fingers that something great will emerge. Greatness is rarely coincidence.

I’d love to hear what you think or tips you’ve learned along the way. Please share them in the comments!

 

 

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