How to Write Insightful Reports using the DDPP Analysis Framework
In 1999, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates co-authored a book by the title Business at the Speed of Thought. The idea behind the book was that technology must be the nervous system unobtrusively coordinating the activities of every business. Without this critical system, organizational ‘nervous breakdown’ becomes inevitable.
If technology is the brains of an organization, business reports are the eyes and the mouthpiece of that business. Through reporting, a pressing issue that has been identified (i.e., seen with the eyes) is communicated (spoken of, in writing) in such a manner that the subject lends itself to effective intervention or resolution.
A report is a broadly defined type of written communication that is prepared following careful evaluation of a given issue, phenomenon, or problem within an organization. It provides a thorough analysis of the issue and prescribes a set of solutions. Decisions that run the gamut from investing to restructuring, hiring, and expanding are often based on the intelligence conveyed through reports.
The report may be prepared in response to an executive directive, may be regularly mandated by organization policy. It may also originate within a department or workers who see the need to share essential communication using formal means.
Types of organizational reports
Business reports come in many types and formats that it can be challenging to categorize them into specific pigeonholes. What follows is a grouping of the types of reports that one is likely to encounter in a typical organizational setting.
When an organization decides to gauge the performance of a department or individual worker such as for suitability for promotion—a report may become necessary. Following a detailed analysis of the issue, a performance report is then prepared. Other scenarios that may warrant the preparation of performance reports are the appraisal of a newly opened branch or the comparative analysis of competing modalities of operation. It is through such reports that management can form ideas and make critical decisions
Organizations routinely encounter financial, logistical, managerial, or operational challenges. If the issue is so complicated that figuring out the actual problem and prescribing a particular course of action is not immediately possible, a problem-solving report may become necessary. In this, a person or committee sets about gathering data and conducting a careful analysis of the data. Once the problem understood, a report detailing the particulars of the problem and a possible course of action is written.
Every so often, potential opportunities present themselves to an organization. For example, a new market may be opening up, or consumer needs may be evolving. Similarly, the company may suspect that a given product would sell better given specific marketing changes. At other times, an identified problem may call for a fact-finding report, for instance, when a factory machine stops working.
A health-based non-profit organization, for instance, may find it necessary to prepare an investigative report to guide an intervention at a target community. Let us take the case of COVID-19. For a Kenyan health NGO seeking to sensitize the public, it might become necessary to find out why the virus has spread relatively faster in locales such as Eastleigh in Nairobi and Old Town in Mombasa. Jumping in to teach the population about social distancing, hand-washing, sanitizing, and use of protective face masks may not be enough.
What the NGO may do then is to mobilize their team of psycho-social researchers to gather facts in the affected locations. But once they have collected their intelligence, they will need to share it with key stakeholders such as interventionists at the Ministry of Health and other health NGOs. In this case, a fact-finding report would the ideal vehicle for sharing their findings.
Other types of organizational reports
Communication media such as memoranda or business letters are forms of reports. Other types are interpretive business reports, which convey facts and opinions while helping to interpret a given problem in a given way. Also commonly written are summary reports. These are prepared after a meeting to share the proceedings and discussions with stakeholders, such as the media.
When a company needs to upgrade its technology, a technical report may become necessary. This might detail methods the company has been using, why these are no longer adequate, and suggest new technology, showing why and how this would profit the organization.
Other report types include standing committee reports, which are written by committees appointed to look into a given situation (e.g., salaries review, department assessment), etc. These types of committees, being ad-hoc, are often dissolved as soon as their report is handed in.
There may also be formal organizational reports, which are official reports bearing detailed information to help organizations make key decisions. Examples are annual reports, safety reports, and expense reports.
Using the DDPP framework to craft reports
The letters DDPP stand for Descriptive, Diagnostic, Predictive, and Prescriptive. Under this model, one first describes the situation, then diagnoses the problem, predicts a likely outcome, and ultimately prescribes a course of action. But how does one go about using this framework to develop insightful reports?
This is the most straightforward arm of the DDPP analysis cluster. Under this arm, the writer of the report goes about answering the question, “What happened?” Bear in mind that the initial trigger for report writing is an identified problem, occurrence, or issue.
When conducting your description, be sure to capture as many pertinent details as possible about the state of affairs under consideration. Following your research into the issue, you frame this issue as descriptively and as succinctly as possible. The goal here is to communicate the problem or issue in such a manner that the reader is motivated to read on.
Ultimately, the quality of your narrative will make or break your attempts at communicating. Bear in mind that you cannot begin to describe until your data-gathering phase is complete.
The term diagnosis is used in conventional medicine to describe the drawing of a conclusion about the nature of an illness. This follows an observation of the symptoms or lab tests. The critical question here is, “What is going on?” or “Why has this happened?” Usually, some level of analysis is crucial before a reliable diagnosis can be arrived at.
Above, we mentioned the health-based NGO that needs to establish the factor (or factors) behind the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Eastleigh and Old Town. Upon scrutiny, one may discover that factors such as population density, low literacy levels, poverty, and cultural factors are at play.
Before arriving at these factors, one may have to interview the local personnel and study the Population, and Housing Census reports to understand the demographics. This will give insights on literacy levels, for instance. The team would have to conduct observation by mingling with the locals to discern the factors behind the unrestricted person-to-person contact through which the virus is spreading.
Upon doing such an analysis, one may now have a sound grasp of the problem and why it persists. In other words, one will now have a dependable diagnosis upon which to base a report.
With analysis and diagnosis complete, one may seek to go further and study the various variables, including population, literacy levels, patterns of interaction, and unique cultural norms at play. This would be with the intention of discerning patterns and predicting what is likely to happen if a given course of action is taken or not taken. Here, the benefits and/or costs of an action (or inaction) are discussed.
In this phase of the report-writing, one seeks to make predictions from the observations already made during the description phase and the opinions formed at the diagnosis stage. It is important to point out here that the accuracy of the prediction depends heavily on the quality of the information upon which that prediction is based.
To prescribe is to recommend a given course of action, based on the caution about what is likely to go wrong if specific steps are taken or not taken. In the same way, a medical doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics, without which the identified infection would worsen, the writer of the report recommends a given action or intervention.
A key idea here is that based on the problems or opportunities identified, the prescribed course of action is not an option. In the prescription part of the report, the writer needs to state clearly that unless the intervention is undertaken, the problem will persist or worsen, or that the opportunities will be missed.
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