BOOK REVIEW: Show Me the Numbers, by Stephen Few

January 11, 2013 by Stacey Barr

5 Stars — My go-to resource for performance report design

Okay, I’ll admit that I haven’t read “Show Me The Numbers” from cover to cover, even though I’ve owned a copy (a signed copy!) for a few years. But it’s not the kind of book that requires this to get the value from it.

My field is organisational performance measurement, and I’ve seen countless examples of performance reports that truly suck. They are ugly, they are cumbersome, the data is misrepresented and awkwardly displayed. It’s near impossible to draw conclusions, and even more impossible to draw valid conclusions about what performance is doing, and why. How can you make wise business decisions with information fodder so poor?

So Stephen’s book is a gold mine of sensible statistical basics to help us all – novices and experienced practitioners alike – to improve the way we design and use tables and graphs to highlight relationships and patterns in data like comparisons, trends and correlations.

One of my favourite parts of the book is in chapter 7, “General Design for Communication”, where Stephen lays out a wonderful framework for how text can be used to assist tables and graphs to tell the story of the data. This framework is a wonderful checklist for how to design the content of a performance report that can highlight, interpret, explain and recommend responses to signals in our performance measures.

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