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Suitable vs. foolproof reporting

Although managers have a tremendous need for suitable reporting, they rarely get what they want.

The fact is: busy executives don’t want to spend more time studying a computer screen than they would perusing the business section of the Wall Street Journal to simply get the latest revenue statistics. It does not mean that they need or want foolproof systems. Yet managers often get information systems with controls that are so large that users could still make a selection, if they used their elbow to click the mouse.

“Imagine users as very intelligent but very busy”

More rational contemporaries agree with Alan Cooper. This advocate for ergonomic software encourages us to “imagine users as very intelligent but very busy”*. Replace the word “users” with “managers” and we get a useful self-portrayal of executives. This, in my opinion, is a fundamental principle of suitable reporting. “Busy”, for example, means unfilled gaps of time on plane trips, in taxis, in the waiting room of the dentist or anywhere else where there are no computers in sight. In these circumstances, managers greet information on paper with interest and gratitude.

If we avoid visual pathos, the content of the average business chart and in most dashboards would easily fit in a single sentence and, therefore, in an e-mail that can reach the recipient via Blackberry.

Some managers feel that staff departments are a root of evil. For those who trust their own judgment and not just the legwork of others, raw data is sacred. Anyone who distributes survey statistics and includes the most common statements among participants may be rewarded with the power of persuasion. And, there, even hard-core supporters of the extensive use of statistical instruments agree that the most convincing effects can also be identified with the human eye.

One of the fundamental rules of good style is to take a step back**. In other words, anyone who is not able to predict the exact future monthly revenues through yet unknown methods should practice restraint. Being a manager means making decisions that will effect tomorrow and the day after. Historical information helps. The time needed to appraise such information, however, should not exceed its value.

*Alan Cooper, About Face 3: The Essential of Interaction Design
**Strunk, W., White E.B., The Elements of Style, last chapter