DISCUSSION: How Can We De-Clutter Bulky Performance Reports?

by Stacey Barr |

It’s getting close to becoming a natural law of performance management that performance reports only know how to grow, not how to shrink. Despite the fact that we all know large reports just won’t be read, we still struggle to take information out of them.


Despite the fact that we all know large reports just won't be read, we still struggle to take information out of them. Credit: Skarie20

But “Bob” asked for it!

There is story after story about how several years ago “Bob the Manager” wanted a particular measure – say revenue earned per employee – and it’s been reported ever since. Even though Bob only wanted it for a couple of months and left the organisation two years ago!

After a succession of “Bobs” with their ad hoc measures and lack of skill in how to determine the information they need most, performance reports become bloated and unusable.

But we might need it… someday…

There’s also the belief that “we just might need that information one day, so let’s keep it in there.” It’s a symptom of not focusing or prioritising, of not really knowing what the purpose or role of the performance report is. It’s trying to be all things to all people for all time.

When attention scatters, nothing matters (that just came out of my head, but it sounds groovy – like it should be a mantra). The point is, performance reports are supposed to focus us so we can take action on what needs our action the most. We’re stupid if we think we have to solve every problem, set targets for every aspect of our work, and monitor everything that can be measured.

The processing power of our conscious brains, coupled with the number of hours in a day and the lack of resources we always complain about, forbid it. Performance reports are supposed to focus us.

But that’s what Business Analysts are for…

The bulk that many performance reports have also makes navigation through the report a nightmare. The report becomes an unbearable effort to produce. And the amount of data that has to be collated and analysed keeps analysts punching away at their computers through their lunch breaks and until 9pm for several nights after the end of month.

And of course the users of the report don’t really know which information they should give priority to, and which is only noise drowning out the important business performance signals.

Performance report writing tends to be a fairly evolutionary process, where it can shift and change and adjust almost every month. Often many people that contribute content to the report, such as graphs or commentary or project progress updates (and usually way too much of these latter two), don’t really know how the information will be used. Most believe the information won’t even be used at all.

Performance reports need to be simpler and more focused! But how?

We have to be very deliberate and very disciplined about the types of information performance reports should contain. And that’s going to require a rationale and some guidelines. What are yours? Share your ideas for how we can de-clutter our bulky performance reports at the Measure Up blog

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  1. Dhruva Trivedy says:

    Everything boils down to honesty of efforts and intentions. The clutter in the first place, would not be needed if the purpose is clear to all. I think more time needs to be devoted in bringing about clarity of purpose. The ‘whats’ require to be focussed upon rather than the ‘hows’!

  2. Bill Ravensberg says:

    “When attention scatters, nothing matters.”

    I like that!

    I consider it a part of my job to work with those that ask for information about what they are replacing when they ask for something new. I’m fortunate though as the one I primarily work with thinks this way anyway.

    I like to have extra data for when research is required. It generally gets collected which does not take much effort as a lot of it comes in with other data. But, I have it to help when expanding on what is getting reported.

    I have some data that is showing some trends that I have raised but still has not made it to any kind of regular reporting.

    So, in the end, we are still having to report what others want.

    But, I think it is part of our job to point out the clutter and work with others to keep reporting meaningful. We may not always be successful. But, at least we should be trying!

  3. Stacey Barr says:

    Dhruva, I agree with you. One reason I see for this lack of clarity of the purpose of a performance report is that people don’t put enough work into what should precede the development of a report: the design of the right measures.

  4. Sergey Lebedev says:

    Stacey thanks for the article.
    I believe that the performance reports should contain only valid key information. The question is which one?

    I would look for the answer in the following areas:
    – Performance reports are designed for decision makers. Each person decides there is an area of responsibility for the processes and their results. At each management level its own processes and outcomes. Thus performance reports should contain only information that helps the manager to manage the company.
    – Manager can manage multiple processes. In this case, he should choose to control the processes and outcomes that most positively affect processes at higher levels.
    – How make choice of key data? Before adding a new measurement to the report we need to answer the questions: what / who, where, how much, when (thank to Dan Roam’s 6W). Goals or key processes laid out on elementary components can point to the really important data that will help answer the questions of how and why. Such data and measurements must be added to measure performance reports.
    – In order to not clutter up performance reports useless indicators to regularly audit the content of these reports.

  5. T N Prabhu says:

    Performance measures can also be classified into 3 ( like reports): Daily / Periodic and special purpose( ad hoc).
    Those that impact ur business almost by the day, those -whose impact can only be seen once a fortnight or once in a month and those that have to be temporarily measured to achieve a short term purpose for the organization.
    If these are settled, then it becomes easier to handle. You are almost always left with only 3/4 to monitor at any point in time.

  6. Stacey Barr says:

    Hi TN – I like your thinking. It’s not just an audience we need to design a report for, but an application. And the daily operations don’t need to be made more complex with measures that make sense only in a tactical or strategic sense.

    Perhaps a good question is: “Which results can I influence through my daily actions, and which results do I need to monitor periodically to make sure I am focusing on the right daily results?”

  7. T N Prabhu says:

    Dear Stacy,
    Very well phrased question. Thank you. Guess the principle associated with de-cluttering are same – be it ones desk, time, mind or performance metrics.

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