The final steps: making it look coherent; adding insight

This is the sixth in a series of emails on one-page summaries of bigger reports - and in particular, what to do if your one-pager has many numbers embedded within its paragraphs. I’ve seen a Marketing one-pager with 47 numbers in its text, and a Finance one with 61 numbers. Previous emails showed that we should instead convey it in a table - see below, albeit I've made two tweaks to the version you saw before... more on that later. We also saw how to make the table sharp.

Today, we make it even sharper - and add insight too.

Insight on adding insight: so, how to add insight to such a table? Well, it depends (and what follows, I admit, isn't exactly rocket science, plus arguably I could instead convey it as a decision tree...):

If the comment is critical: put it in the page's summary that draws out the table's key points.

If the comment isn’t critical but more nice-to-know - but it’s not that brief: alongside the number to which it relates, have a comment that cross-refers to words under the table. Figure 1 now has an extra column - the 'Comment' column G (this is the first of the two tweaks I've made to the table). Study row 1.2 of column G - it tells readers where to go for more info. Of course, cross-referring like this isn't ideal - readers' eyes must float from table to comment back to table - but it works. 

As for the second tweak... we see that later. Let's go back to our 'insight' decision tree:

If the comment isn’t critical, but more nice-to-know – and it’s brief too: see column G, row 2.2: “Will be back on budget by July”.

Notice that, alongside some numbers, it says "No comment" in grey in a small font. That's because there's, well, no comment. It prevents readers being unsure about the lack of comment alongside some numbers (“There's no words alongside some numbers…?!? Did the report-writer forget to say anything? Or is there no comment to make?”).

That's insight. Of course, you may be thinking: "Just brief comments?!? Surely bosses want more?". However, I've already talked about that in this series, so let's move onto the second tweak to the above table. Step back: last month's email explained a problem that I often encounter when redoing a page with lots on it: I redo each bit individually - I tidy the tables, smarten the graphs, etc - and yes, each bit is then fine... but collectively it just doesn’t work. It doesn't quite hang together.

So I resort to my Get-Out-Of-Jail card: reversed-font section numbers, i.e. the three white-on-black bits in column B of Figure 1. When I do this - when I add reversed-font section numbers to a page - I think: “Got it... we’re there”. It’s an example of Robin Williams’ 'Repetition' Principle (I mentioned her Design Principles last month). Repetition gives the page a look. A feel. A style. And I use this Get-Out-Of-Jail card constantly.

Two tips on it:

1. Do just the section number in reversed font, not the entire section name, i.e. don’t also put ‘PUMA’ in reversed font.

2. Use reversed-font section numbers for your dashboards. Firstly, it gives the page a look and feel. Secondly, in a conversation it helps you refer to something on the page - how many times have you said: “No, not that graph… the one beneath it – and on the left a bit too… got it?”.

That's Figure 1. There's more on tables, including how to apply Robin Williams' Proximity Principle to your tables (it really helps). But that's for another day. Time for the fun stuff.

Boring machines, and cogs that don't work: for two reasons, I love a sign at Edinburgh train station - it's one of several installed in 2014 by Network Rail in the station to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication by Sir Walter of "what is commonly regarded as the western world's first historical novel" (that's what I read in a newspaper...). Firstly, I adore Sir Walter's sentiments about story-telling. Click here for a previous email on telling stories in business - and why I think it's often just a bit of a power-trip for bosses. 

Secondly, I adore the sign's dumb 'cogs' auto-shape. Each cog has different-sized teeth, which means the cogs can't actually turn and function as cogs. Still, I guess a Network Rail manager added it to the sign because they thought it looked funky.

Also, it does rather explain a lot. You see, if someone in the train industry can't design wheels that turn, no wonder we've such problems with train punctuality.  

Til next month.


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