... Even if your one-pager has 47 numbers

This is the second 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 paragraph. I've even seen a Marketing one-pager with 47 numbers in its text, then a two weeks later, a Finance one with 61 numbers.

Let's assume that all 61 47 numbers are key, bosses want to see them. Also, assume three are really key this month... but that next month, we'll find that four are really key... and they're different ones to this month's three.

One final point to mention: often in such summaries, the text merely says if something is up or down: “ABC is £Xm, up £Pm down on forecast; DEF is £Qm adverse on £R forecast; etc”.

Which - I reckon - is wrong. Bosses want insight, not rote chanting of ‘up here, down there’.

For today though, let's assume bosses don’t want insight. They just want to know what’s going well, and what’s not. But bosses struggle to see, for instance, bad news - and that's because bulleted text is a poor way to convey 47 numbers:

Bad news is hidden within repetitive wording. Forecast is mentioned repeatedly, as are favourable, adverse, etc. It’s tricky to see the wood for the trees.

Bad news is inconsistently described. Down, adverse, negative, unfavourable, below. Not easy for readers.

Bad news sometimes is even wrongly stated. The page is manually created - every month, someone must overtype last month's text - so errors arise a lot. The author wrongly types '87', not '78'. They fail to change last month's 'up' to this month's 'down'. Not good.

Bad news is hidden amongst good news. Bosses must read it all, scouring for 'bad' words (adverse, below, etc).

But what to do instead? The answer is obvious, but for many reasons, many people don’t do it: a table. See Figure 1. Content is fictional (“Bribes”?!), plus it shows some, but not all, indicators. 

Notice that the columns are labelled A, B, C, etc. Here, labelling columns isn't critical - it's a small table - but in bigger tables, it really helps. It helps us more easily refer to a particular bit of the table in our meeting or within our written commentary … as I will now demonstrate – the columns are as follows: (A) indicator name (e.g. ‘Costs’); (B) row reference (in big tables it helps to number rows too…); (C) unit of measurement; (D) Actual figure; (E) VarianceActual v Forecast, and the protocol is Favourable/ (Adverse), i.e. brackets are bad news; (F) Forecast figure.

Study the table, and you might have questions on it, e.g. why not add a % Variance? Does it need both Forecast and Variance? Also, why no colour? Why 51 numbers (the before had 47)? How is Variance computed? Sit tight for future emails. For now, note the following:

The table solves the problems we saw earlier. It’s less repetitive than the text - Favourable is mentioned once, not repeatedly. It’s less error-prone - no re-typing needed, it’s a simple copy-across from Excel.

Bad news really pops from the page. Scan the variance column (column E) – four variances are in brackets, and unlike other numbers in that column, they’re not greyed down. They’re the bad ‘uns. Easy to spot.

There are more benefits to mention, e.g. we spot omissions and even duplicity and deceit. Plus other questions, e.g. how to add insight? Why not do Red-Amber-Green blobs? Also, we've a slight tweak to make to the table to further improve it.

Again, future emails will address these. Let's stop there for today. 

Til next month


Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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