Doing reporting with the purpose in mind

As I see it, the main purpose of business reporting is learning. I would start any business review meeting with "this month we learned ABC" and end it with "we want to further understand XYZ". 

For example, there is one department that is working on process improvement. They are ten people who have a salary and who travel so much during a year. The usual thing is to take out a department report and look at the cost of that department in relation to what was planned for. If everything is in check, then we are done with the business control. But if you turn it around and ask what have we learned from this report, the answer is: hardly anything. So, why spending any time on doing this every month when we learn nothing from it?

Another approach is to look at what the department is working on, in this case the projects. Identify the projects on the agenda and how do we measure the status. Focus on the hours spent, work completed and what is to be delivered by when. It is another kind of business control which is detached from financials, but is what gives insight and helps us learn something. Argue for a having a quarterly review of the financials instead of monthly and direct your energy towards understanding the activities.

In my case it was quite an effort to shift the focus towards project progress rather than cost center financials and what I learned was that it would have helped to be more clear and firm about the purpose. Say plain and clear: "look, we are going through this monthly report and learning nothing, let's stop doing it every month and instead direct our energy towards understanding the progress we are making on projects. If we fail to deliver on time, the sales team won't be able to sell this new product and that will cost us so much every month". Eventually we got there, but it could have been a shorter and less bumpy road if I would have named the elephant in the room from the beginning rather than saying "let's try doing this, it may bring us something". 

The point of the story is that always asking "why are we doing this report" and "what do we learn from it" helps spot outdated practices and break the pattern of "we've always done it this way". When we do things with the purpose in mind, we get better at doing work that matters, work that really makes a difference and that would be missed if gone.

Anyone can give "maybe" answers

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