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Reporting is Serious Business

Aug 17, 2007
Seriously simple when you think it through.

Often managers respond that they have no idea how to get the information they need to manage their businesses or departments. They either have too much or too little.

There are two problems.
The first is that the managers have not identified their Key Performance Indicators.
The second is managers have not set up a sound reporting structure. This article is about the structure of reporting.

Management in most aspects should be simple. The work they are managing is a matter of developing a plan, carrying tout the plan and reporting on the success or otherwise of the plan. The cycle is; Plan - Act and Report. There can always be a fourth step; celebrate!

As the Hannibal from the A Team said -I love it when a plan comes together!- Then they would party. You should too, party and then get ready to make your next plan for success.

In marketing articles one reads about -test and measure-. Well in management the same is true. We set up work, and have the person(s) doing the work measure the ongoing results and report back. Managers may need to make adjustments or rethink the whole plan.

Management has a hierarchy of reporting that is often overlooked in the creation of reporting protocols.

What is planned for in a workday can be measured every hour and finally reported back at the end of the day. Usually work that you plan for in a day may be carried out by someone else or a team of people that you are managing. So the day you plan; and the report you see at the end of the day, summarizes what occurred. You may choose to have some form of short interval control to watch the proceedings for a while and have more regular reports given to you. That depends on how micro you want to manage. Mostly that would be seen as interfering, so beware! Often you are not in a position to see the actual tasks being accomplished and have to rely on regular feedback through reports.

Let us look at some examples.
A web marketer plans to sell 20 products per day. Each hour they can log in and see a report of how many sales have been made. At the end of the day they can see the summary of what occurred each hour. Could they have made any difference on the result by knowing what happened each hour? Probably not. So a single report at the end of the day would suffice for them to make plans and change their advertising campaigns. This is a continuous process.

A factory producing widgets. They make a plan for the day with the manager. The operator monitors the staff and machinery as well as production rates. She records the information on an hourly basis and at the end of the shift provides a summary of the days activities and number of widgets produced. This is a continuous process.

A repair shop services auto engines. Each engineer gets an allocation of work to do and reports back when the work is done as to how long it took and any problems. This is a discrete process. It stops and starts.

Where does this go? Let us figure it out. As we move up the totem pole of reporting we plan for longer periods of time. The CEO and his executive team plan for three to five years in advance. Their annual results tell them how well their strategy is operating. They can be privy to quarterly and monthly data as well. Weekly and daily information would be overload for the executives! This is the realm of middle management.

Executive: Plan Qterly -Record Monthly - Report Qterly

Manager: Plan Monthly - Record Weekly - Report Monthly

Supervisor: Plan Weekly - Record Daily - Report Weekly

Operator: Plan Daily - Record Hourly - Report Daily

This semi graphic, is as good as I can attempt to show you how it works. Bare with me. Read it from the bottom line upwards and imagine a large V overlaying the words. The middle Record is actually a level down, making a shallow V which becomes overlayed by a larger V in total. Everything is moving upwards to senior management and increasing in the reporting time frame.

A daily plan and report combination may be for a production supervisor. The operator collects hourly data. In effect the recording drops down a level, which would also be a lower level in a management hierarchy (I could not show it in this document!) The report back goes back up a level to the supervisor.

The plant manager would work on a monthly basis. They will receive a summary of events monthly to report to the senior management group, above their level.

Questions of detail can be answered by drilling down. This is how many management software tools are set up. As a manager you are capable of choosing your level of detail. Obviously a senior manager would choose a dashboard to get a snapshot of the business and drill down on any anomalies.

Reporting structures allow the correct information to be sent up the hierarchy. It is always great when all the reporting is done through a single system, like an ERP. This means that management can see the real data. Also staff can be sure management is reporting what is actually happening rather than making up the numbers to show the analysts.

Be wary of spreadsheet monsters! It is also important that data is not taken out of the system and reworked on a spreadsheet. If this practice continues without consolidating it back with the live data, soon it will not represent reality. This has caused more than one company some serious concern.

Plan, Act, Report - is as simple as it needs to be. Lets celebrate.
About the Author
By Graeme Nichol President of Arcturus Advisors. Please visit their website at http://www.arcturusadvisors.com. Arcturus Advisors works with business leaders to close the gap between great strategies and mediocre results. We use a process to get businesses to focus on a shared vision and agree on how to achieve results that far exceed individual contribution.
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