Reports are in important. This is hard to write when doing a continuous improvement blog but there is some value that can be extracted from them from time to time. I would state also that about 80 to 85% of them being produced in any enterprise are not useful and a total waste of resources. Here are my criteria for a useful report. Please send me your thoughts as well.

Who are the customers of the report? This may seem obvious but who wants this report but I have had at least one experience where I was working on metrics and report development and at least 2 or 3 measures or items did not seem relevant to the report. Once I voiced these concerns to the leader of the project, he stated, “Well, it’s your report, don’t use that information if you don’t want to.” My report? I sat at my desk for a long time thinking about that one. Only give the customer what they want, right? But make sure, initially, you understand what the report is supposed to drive before picking measurements and font sizes. Is it an FYI report meaning that it is replacing a meeting? Is it an all hands on deck report where if some aspect of the operation is struggling this report shows where? Is it a trend report that uses leading indicators to shows potential issues before they come up? From these questions, one can ascertain what measurements to use. The customer should always pick the fonts, frames and color schemes after the measurements are chosen.

Where are the measurements coming from? Is the information easy to get to? Is it reliable? Have you tested the information to make sure it actually is signaling something or is it just noise or a nice to have? Once again, charts and graphs are usually the easy part. What is hard is reviewing and ensuring that the data to information transition is reliable and there are processes in place to signal when there is an issue. I realize that pushing a button on SAP or other ERP or database system is easy to get but one really needs to get to where the data and information actually occurs. Is it a P-card transaction in a purchasing agent’s wallet? Does it occur when an employee swipes a pallet license plate? You should know what creates the information and the risks associated with it. We were doing a cycle count report once and just prior to the annual review we found a large discrepancy in one of the intermediates at the site. When we got to the production floor and started to map the process we found out that an individual who was relatively new to the process had printed out product stickers and they got smudged or damaged. Instead of voiding the labels, the individual just printed more. That 5 minute mistake took over 40 hours of research and phone calls to resolve.

Several other points that I have found important is how often or when does the report need to be available. I know that everything should be ad hoc reporting in real time but virtually all the organizations I have worked with either have a batch load in the middle of the night or a homemade Access database that only has date range and production line drop downs.

Reporting is sometimes a necessary evil but wherever possible try to add some relevance and value to the exercise.