Creating reports can be a lot of fun, but there are some very important points to take into account.
1. Data Integrity is by far the most important aspect of any report
Incorrect information will kill not only your report but your own credibility as well. Bankrupt customers, obsolete products and unused document types in your CRM must never be ignored or left out of your data model – at some point in time they will surface and torpedo your efforts. Always, always build data validation into your model, use macros or separate validation sheets or whatever you fancy, but never leave your backside uncovered.
2. Know the needs of your customers
Those who read your reports are your customers and they need information in order to make decisions. Interview, question and listen to your customers so that your reports meet or hopefully exceed their expectations, and whenever possible be prepared for the inevitable “Can we see this in this XX manner?”-request. There is no greater satisfaction than to be able to say “Just click on that link/slicer/symbol and you will find what you are asking for.”
3. Have an open mind
Whenever somebody questions your report, your layout or the visuals you have built into it you need to listen and learn. This is opportunity knocking since you are gaining insight into the users thinking and this learning will make your future reports even better.
4. Readability and clarity
Data is information in a state of chaos, information is understandable and actionable and all our reports should be informative or they can’t be called reports. The goal is to answer questions, preferably all questions and not trigger new ones. Visualizations should add to clarity and understanding, if they don’t they are just clutter and should be removed.
5. Speed does not kill, speed is a necessity
All reports should be served smoking fresh and hot from the oven. The underlying data should never sit around before becoming information in the report. Old news are not news, old news are history and the shorter the time lapse between occurrence and report the better the information.
6. Be a wizard and know your systems
Having to say “That can’t be done” is the worst kind of failure. In creating informative reports you need to know your tools, you need to know where to gain new knowledge and you need to have friendly wizard-friends who can help you. No normal person can keep all available functions and formulas in Excel in their head, but everybody needs to know where to go in order to find solutions. Those who do will be able to say “Yes, it can be done, but since we are now moving into miracles, it will take some time to get it right.”
7. Eliminate manual tasks
Build models that can live without you. With the advent of Power BI, more specifically Power Query and Power Pivot, you can eliminate tedious manual data crunching. Manual, hands on reports, are error prone and time consuming. Use the new tools to build data models and reports with automatic refresh capacity and everyone will benefit. (Especially your own family!)