The 10 Commandments of Reporting
1. The why of reporting is forecasting
The reason why we do reporting is to gain insight from the past, learn from how the actual results have deviated from our expectations and adjust our views about the future.
2. Do not call reporting what is presentation of past data
Presenting past results without any insight into deviations from a reference or comparison to a benchmark does not trigger any discussion or learning.
3. The reporting work is not about putting together data
You should always find ways of being more effective at putting together numbers such that to use the time for analysis and discussion. Use BI applications, pivot tables and data models instead of copy/paste of data and cell formulas.
4. You should use reporting as a tool for discussion
When you look at a finished report, ask yourself: does it give us something to talk about? If all you do is to look at the numbers and say "yes, that seems right", you have a poor report.
5. The report owner is the result responsible. Always
Whenever you are in doubt about who owns a report, answer the question: "who would be the most suited person to predict future results?". And there you find the report owner. If the ownership lies somewhere else, you need to ask some questions.
6. Reports should be flexible and ready to be changed
When building reporting systems, you need to have change in mind. Reports serve a specific need at a specific point in time. Whenever significant changes come, reporting needs to adapt if it shall continue to be relevant.
7. Reporting is a collaborative effort
Roles and data ownership will show you who should chip in the reporting effort. Accounting owns accounts, controlling owns the financial data, project management owns projects, HR owns employee data, etc. You get the point.
8. Reduce, reduce, reduce
Take out as much as you can from the report presentation and then take out some more. Figures that don't change from month to month in a monthly report (such as year-end budget) should be out of there. Take out the status numbers and present only deviations. Add a % change figure if you need to indicate the magnitude of the deviation. Take out lines, colors, fonts, decimals, borders and whatever draws attention from what is important. Can you get the report message through in 3 seconds? Try.
I have not 9th commandment, and therefore I will not add one just for the sake of it (see no. 8).
10. "In God we trust, all others must bring data"
W. Edwards Deming