Guiding Principles for Management Reporting

How to visualize data more clearly

In business communication especially, it’s important to reduce noise, direct attention and help report users to take in the information correctly. Professor Rolf Hichert’s SUCCESS formula, where the acronym stands for S(ay), U(nify), C(ondense), C(heck), E(xpress), S(implify), S(tructure), is extremely useful for mastering this challenge. It’s no accident that four of the seven principles for more comprehensible business communication relate to the realm of perception – and thus to ways and means of directing the reader’s attention.

Shed ballast, sharpen focus

Redundant information distracts the reader instead of supporting the core message. On the other hand, those who follow the SIMPLIFY principle go easy on the report user’s attention by presenting just the relevant KPIs – and nothing else.

Use visual conventions

The reader’s eyes skim over the report page looking for points of entry and familiar patterns. The EXPRESS principle recommends visualizations that report users intuitively understand. These include established conventions, such as the left-to-right presentation of time series as column or line charts.

Apply consistent standards

Those wishing to compare values quickly don’t have time to bring different units of measurement down to one common denominator. That’s why the CHECK principle calls for uniform scaling in graphics. Thus, the same unit in a bar chart should always be represented by the same bar length. Anything else leads to misunderstandings and, in the worst case, bad decisions. The CHECK principle, by contrast, ensures visual integrity.

Provide guidance

What good is a map that shows the places but not the roads? It’s just the same with the data in a report. Only when the figures are placed in context according to the CONDENSE principle is the reader able to recognize relationships, draw conclusions and choose the right direction.

Those who consistently apply the perceptual principles CONDENSE, CHECK, EXPRESS and SIMPLIFY will significantly reduce the scope for interpretation in reports. These are the guiding principles which authors and recipients of reports can follow for reliable and unambiguous communication.