Assisting with inquiries: Part one – your audience

In my last post (‘Assisting with inquiries: Introduction‘) I kicked off this series on reporting and in the associated page I introduced the mindmap which this series expands on.

When I first created the mindmap I discussed the idea with a couple of colleagues. This helped me to refine the branches and questions. I had already grouped the questions according to when they should be asked (before, during and after providing information). I had decided that the ‘before’ questions should be split into two further groups:

  • Questions addressing the mechanics of reporting
  • Questions addressing the needs of the audience

During the discussions with my colleagues one of them showed me a copy of ‘Storytelling with data’ by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, a book dedicated to the subject of how to effectively present data and information to the people who need it. It is an excellent book which I highly recommend. In fact I like it so much I’m tempted to suggest that you stop reading this blog and read Cole’s book instead. Whether you do so now or later, if you are interested in this subject please do seek the book out. I’d also highly recommend Edward Tufte’s landmark work ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’.

Very early in ‘Storytelling with data’, the author addresses two key points to consider when communicating information – understanding the audience (WHO) and the mechanism (HOW). I was pleased that the way I had grouped my questions concurred with this. I realised however, that it made sense to explore those questions relating to the audience before those questions relating to the mechanics, so that is my intention in this post and in the accompanying page ‘Before reporting, consider the needs of your audience‘.


Your audience are your customers

When we work on designing, building and testing technology we should consider the customer in everything that we do. Quality is, after all, perceived through the eyes of the customer. The information we provide is no different.

When I am reporting, it helps me to think about the information I provide and the way I provide it as a product or service. The audience for that information are my customers. Like any product or service, different customers have different needs and expectations from it which will influence their perception of its quality. The better you understand those needs and expectations, the more likely you are to address them and the better your product or service is likely to be.

You can probably come up with some kind of answer to questions relating to the needs of your audience but be aware that it might not be a perfect answer, or even a good answer. If you aren’t sure about their needs, the best solution is to ask them. That way you are more likely to keep your customers happy.


Quick links to the posts and pages in this series:

Assisting with inquiries – blog posts

The mindmap and questions


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