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Report Clutter

January 4, 2010

TLC produces a show called Clean House, where a crew helps home owners who are drowning in clutter sell useless things around the house and redecorate their homes using the proceeds.  The show goes like this:  The crew walks through the house and is bewildered at all the junk piled up in the house.  The home owners want a clean house and pledge to help the crew de-clutter.  Then, in the middle of the show, there’s always a conflict moment where the homeowners absolutely refuse to part with items that haven’t been used in ages for one of these reasons:

  1. They paid good money for it – the “sunk cost” mentality
  2. It was handed down to them, or, they’ve always had it – the “heirloom” mentality
  3. They might need it later – the “just in case” mentality

Long story short, the crew eventually reasons with (or bribes) the homeowners into letting go, sells the stuff, buys some useful furniture and surprises the homeowners with a clean and clutter-free living space.

Obviously, these are extreme and TV-worthy cases.  But we go through the same process of hoarding data in our reports, which explains why reports tend to grow but never shrink in terms of data supplied and content stored.  Keeping old or unnecessary data is not only nonconstructive, but also distracts from the real content by competing for the reader’s attention.  And if reports are generated in applications like Excel that have no default controls, any extra data heightens the risk of errors.  This is becoming a very serious issue for many companies.

See what’s cluttering up your real content by looking for areas where faulty mentality is allowing extra data to take up precious report space.  Here are some examples:

  • “Sunk cost” mentality:  It took a lot of effort working with IT to get this data.  Better keep it even though it’s not used.
  • “Heirloom” mentality: When I took over the report, the data was already in there.  Or, this Information used to be relevant.
  • “Just in case” mentality: Not sure who looks at it or what it’s used for, so better to include everything.

Remove clutter from your reporting to bring back the original focus of the report.  As an added bonus, after going through this process, you’ll gain  much more clarity on how the information you own is used/not used/can be used in the organization.  This will help you find better and more relevant information to present and take your analytics to the next level.

Creative Commons License
The Back Office Mechanics Blog by Nancy Wu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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