If you’ve never used a reporting tool before, it can be intimidating to get started. It’s true that reporting tools can help you make effective, data-backed decisions—but how do you pick the right one for your team? What features will help you make better decisions? How do you go about setting up a reporting tool? Is there such a thing as too much information?
You can find and build reporting at various levels of your organization. Business and strategy teams might implement organization-wide reporting, while sales teams need sales-specific reporting. But as a team lead, it doesn’t matter what department you’re in—instead, you need a way to view all of your team’s information and connect it back to their key workflows. Collecting, digesting, and analyzing project data is no easy feat—which is where reporting tools come in.
In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to find the best reporting tool for your team. From data analytics to the end-user experience, here’s how reporting tools can help you analyze project data and hit your team’s key performance indicators (KPIs).
A reporting tool helps you organize, analyze, and visualize relevant data. With reporting software, you can make information easier to parse, so your teams can make data-backed decisions confidently and quickly. As a whole, reporting tools are one of the best ways to process data in order to understand the relative health or progress of various initiatives.
Some reporting platforms also offer:
APIs and connectors, to automate and connect reporting across your most important business tools.
Embedded analytics, which create reports in the tools you’re already using to reduce app switching.
Forecasting, to take in current information and extrapolate performance at the end of a project.
Enterprise reporting, with additional security measures in place to ensure the right information is being distributed to the right people.
Business intelligence (BI) tools, like reporting tools, take in and analyze information. In addition to analyzing the information, BI tools also transform and interpret data to draw meaningful insights. These tools are built to aggregate a wide range of information from across your organization, so you can make broader and longer-term strategic decisions. Business intelligence managers will often build dashboards using SQL or data analysis to draw specific information and findings from their data.
Put simply, reporting software can help you understand the current status of your data and the health of various initiatives, while business intelligence tools can help you dig into why those things are happening in the first place.Read: Guide to executive dashboards: 10 reporting tips and benefits
Before we talk about the what and how of reporting, it’s important to understand the why. Accessing data is important—and aggregating the information you need is the key to making good business decisions. In order to select the right reporting tool for your organization, it’s important to understand what you want out of reporting in the first place.
The first step is understanding which type of reporting tool you’re looking for. There are three main types of reporting tools:
Tools that report on specific types of information. For example, Google Analytics can give you insight into SEO and website traffic. Similarly, a CRM like Salesforce reports on how your leads and opportunities are progressing.
Tools that aggregate any type of data. For example, Microsoft’s Power BI and Google Data Studio allow you to import information from a variety of data sources to create collective reports.
Tools that connect to your work. For example, Universal Reporting software offers a single point of reference for keeping track of how work across your organization is progressing. By connecting that work to business critical goals, senior leaders have real-time visibility and actionable insights on all projects in one place.
The type of reporting tool you invest in depends on your specific team’s needs. If you’re driving organization-wide reporting, you likely want to use a tool like Zoho Analytics to report on wide swathes of data in the most customizable way possible. Alternatively, if you just want to know about a specific initiative—like how many users are engaging with your social media accounts—you’re better off with a specific reporting tool, like Hootsuite.
But as a team lead, one of the most powerful things to report on is project data. This type of reporting—universal reporting—creates a single point of reference for keeping track of how work across your organization is progressing towards business critical goals. Universal reporting tools give you up-to-date dashboards across teams and projects—with information on workloads, budget, timing, and more—that don’t require manual updating or maintenance. Since these tools are connected to the work that’s happening, while it is happening, they’re always up-to-date.
Universal reporting is often overlooked, but is critical for driving impact. In this article, we’ll focus on universal reporting and how you can use these tools to ensure your team gets their highest-impact work done.Don’t have a lot of data? Consider using a decision matrix instead
Siloed reporting tools, or high-level, broad-scale reporting tools lack one thing: a direct connection to your team’s data. Without a connection between the work you’re doing and your reporting software, you either need to invest in a connector software or build robust, time-intensive APIs. Worse, that means your data and reporting aren’t connected to the work they’re representing. If team members want to learn more about the data the report covers, they have to go digging for information, schedule a status meeting, or re-create that information manually.
This is already a problem—according to our research, the average knowledge worker switches between 10 apps up to 25 times per day. Additionally, knowledge workers are spending 13% of their time on work that’s already been completed. With the right reporting tool, you can address these issues—while also empowering your team to do their best work.
Universal reporting tools gather and organize project data into visual resources that can inform your decision-making process. This level of insight can be critical for making important decisions quickly.
Good universal reporting tools give you:
Real-time updates and insight into raw data
A way to visualize information—and share that information
A way to drill down into the specifics
A way to speed up the reporting process (through things like automation and templates)
Customizable reports with the exact parameters you need
Better, informed decision making
The universal reporting tool you select should have some, if not all, of these features. All told, these five features can help you get the most out of your data analytics tool.
Data visualization software is the bulk of most reporting tools—including universal reporting. This helps you quickly parse information by turning data into charts, graphs, and maps.
Self-service reporting options have simple functionality and drag-and-drop features that make them easy for any team to set up. This can be helpful if you’re only reporting across one or two data sets, and if you only need basic information in your reports. Self-service reporting tools typically have templates the report designer can use to quickly spin up a report.
Dashboards are typically built into visualization reporting tools to allow you to see and track work from every angle. To create a dashboard, drag and drop various relevant widgets. Then, every time you reload the dashboards, the widgets will auto populate with the most recent information. This is great for in-the-moment spot checks or keeping a pulse on how work is progressing in real-time.
Static reports are a great way to snapshot data from a specific point in time. For example, if you want to capture data after a product launch or marketing campaign, you can create and save a report for historical data analysis in the future, or export that report as an Microsoft Excel file or .csv. Most reporting tools will offer this feature in some way. However, beware of tools that only offer static reports since they may quickly become out of date. Ensure you also have a way to access real-time data reports.
Ad-hoc reporting is a single, one-time report that a reporting or business analytics team might generate for a specific query or metric. Ad hoc-reports are highly customized, but also typically narrow in scope. They offer a very detailed look into specialized data.
A reporting tool should effectively connect your work to your reports. Without that level of connection, you have to switch between apps and search for information in order to find the data you’re looking for.
We’re all familiar with searching through email for that one update, or scheduling a meeting to debrief on a project’s status. At Asana, we call these activities—like chasing information or following up on the status of work—”work about work.” The average knowledge worker spends 60% of their time on work about work. With a universal reporting tool, you can aggregate information and draw clear conclusions in order to reduce work about work. If team members need to draw additional insights, they can click through to the underlying work—since it is all in the same tool—and address the root of the problem.Try Universal Reporting
Unless you’re specifically creating a static report, all of your reporting should be in real time, so you’re acting on the most relevant data. Without real-time updates, you might be making decisions based on outdated data.Read: United Way of Salt Lake increases community impact with Asana
Interactive reports are critical in order for you to access the information you actually need. With these dashboards, you can also drill down into more detail if you see something amiss. If numbers are off—or up—interactive dashboards give you the opportunity to drill down into that information and understand why that might be. As a result, you and your team members can make well-informed, data-driven business decisions.
Make sure the universal reporting tool you choose lets you build reports the way you want to. If the structure is too rigid, the report might yield interesting data—that doesn’t necessarily apply to your needs.
When you’re looking for a universal reporting tool, ask yourself:
How can data be visualized in this report?
Is there more than one option to visualize or present data?
Can I export, print, or share reports?
How do other people access these reports?
This depends on your organization’s size and scale, but if you’re getting started with universal reporting, look for a tool that offers out-of-the-box templates and guidance about what you can report on. That way, you can immediately start seeing results.
A good universal reporting tool must have a robust set of integrations. Your organization doesn’t just use one business tool—you need a connected ecosystem of tools in order to do your best work. That’s why Asana integrates with over 200 business tools including Tableau, Power BI, and Looker.Read: Authority Hacker empowers their global team with Asana
Of course, make sure the universal reporting tool you select is within your budget. However, when looking at pricing, don’t just look at how much the tool costs—also look at how much you’re getting out of it. A universal reporting solution with a built in project portfolio management and work management software, for example, might be more valuable than a straight reporting tool—because you’re getting more bang for your buck.
You’ll be using this tool frequently. Before investing fully in a universal reporting tool, check to see if you can trial it. Roll the tool out to some key team members and stakeholders. Ask yourselves the following:
Is the user interface easy to use?
Is the tool user-friendly?
Can non-technical users find the information they need easily?
How well does it integrate with your current tools?
How often are reports generated?
Good universal reporting tools empower your team to make data-backed decisions. When there’s less guesswork and more guidance, team members can focus on their highest-impact work.
If you’re ready to get started, try Asana’s Universal Reporting to get real-time visibility and actionable insights on all projects in one place. With Universal Reporting, you can have up-to-date dashboards across teams and projects—with information on workloads, budget, timing, and more—that don’t require manual updating or maintenance. Because the dashboards are connected to the work in Asana, they’re accurate and current so you don’t need to search or ask around for updates. Get started today.Try Universal Reporting