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Report Design Graphic

Design ideas for Beyond Budgeting management information reports

by Matthew Leitch, 15 July 2003

The freedom to do more than report variances against targets
The enemy
Design to help readers think
Ways to filter for errors
Ways to reveal what is happening
Ways to show what might happen in future
Ways to evaluate performance
Ways to evaluate and revise models and forecasts
Ways to focus on important information
General guidelines for clarity and compactness
Links and further reading

Please note

If you would like to improve your ability to design information graphics then you should consider engaging the author for some individual technical tutoring or teletutoring sessions to develop those skills.

This can save you a lot of time on experimentation and is dramatically more efficient than group classes.

The freedom to do more than report variances against targets

If you prepare or use management information reports, whether or not you have decided to go "Beyond Budgeting" (, this page will be of interest. One of the first, and easiest steps towards better performance management is to start presenting the management information you have in a more interesting and useful format than analysis of variances against targets. You can add extra pages even if you don't have permission to ditch budgetary control, and the benefits could far outweigh the effort needed.

Typically, you don't need a new computer system, or complicated mathematics, to do much more with the figures you have. In this paper I'll present a number of ideas, guidelines, and examples to show what is possible. I don't have a complete or definitive answer, but there are lots of ideas here to fire your imagination. If you'd like to have a go at redesigning your packs yourself, pump your brain full of these and any other ideas you can find and then have a go.

This paper suggests ways to design management reports that are clear, beautiful, and useful. It applies the work of the following people, among others:

Although most of this material has been used in science and education this is the first time all this has been applied in this way to the design of management information reports.

The results can be astonishing and delightful. The cumulative impact of many small refinements can easily be a total transformation in just a few hours of work, using data already available.

As well as explaining principles there are numerous illustrations and mini make-overs.

The enemy

The most common style of management report today is an analysis of variances against targets of some kind. Purely financial reports tend to be some variant on this:

Yours probably looks a bit smarter and has a comparison with last year too. On the other hand, it may have some of the practical problems that can make improved presentation seem very difficult, such as 97 income lines, the last 5 of which are bizarre but necessary adjustments that often result in negative numbers. Under pressure to get everything on one page you may be down to 8pt text already.

It is more fashionable to have a "scorecard" of some kind showing a variety of financial and non-financial indicators and, as usual, the presentation concentrates on showing whether the numbers are above or below the targets.

If you would like to do better than these please read on.

Design to help readers think

A well designed management information pack will help people think the way they want to and need to. The aim is not to put over some point as clearly as possible, as it would be in a presentation, but to help others explore the information and decide for themselves what the main points are. It helps to have a good understanding of the thought processes that your reports should support.

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There's more
The whole text of this article is freely available to you without registration by just clicking the link below. Please remember that this website exists because people (perhaps including you) express their thanks for its help in practical ways, such as thinking about how to use its ideas, my services, the book, taking part in research, suggesting topics, etc. Thanks for reading this and I hope you enjoy the full article.

Full article
© 2003 Matthew Leitch
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