Despite the many positive changes and new thinking we’ve seen in Agile over the last few years, I think reporting has been somewhat left behind.
And for that reason, many of us find ourselves mired in the tedious and unproductive task of creating unactionable, unuseful and often unread reports.
The Report Prep Time Sink
Someone spends hours crafting reports. But we often treat them like formalities. They’re not contributing to decision-making or driving any kind of substantial improvement.
This, of course, is a stark contradiction to the Agile ethos of efficiency and value.
Reporting, in and of itself, is non-revenue-generating — and the work that goes into creating them definitely isn’t.
How much is report generation costing you?
Let’s say your lead engineer spends 3 hours a week creating the report. Assuming they work a 37-hour week and earn $100,000, each report is costing you $8108 in salaried time (before factoring in benefits and overheads).
But we haven’t factored in the opportunity cost. The ROI on employing an engineer varies widely, but is generally expected to be 3x to 5x the cost to the company (though it could be much higher, say at start-ups in rapid expansion). That means every hour of time for your $100,000-a-year engineer should cost roughly $52, but generate $156–260 in ROI, or $208 if you expect 4x ROI. The opportunity cost in ROI is a staggering $32,432.
Your report generation might be costing you more than $40,000 per year — so we’d better make it count!
And that’s before we consider the cost of bad reporting (we’ll get onto what bad reporting looks like…)
Balancing Clarity, Context, Commentary and Concision
We’re producing reports, but are they enlightening anyone?
Often, they’re just data dumps. They don’t do any actual work in guiding teams or stakeholders.
The biggest gap I see is the lack of ‘data storytelling’.
Software teams love to pack their reports full of graphs, charts and metrics. But it’s really common for these to lack any accompaniment by context and commentary. Without those, data is often pointless — yet we’re often overly reliant on certain data, such as sprint burndown charts. They’re useful, but they can never tell the whole story.
And it’s made even tougher since, while there are plenty of tools out there that generate things like burndown charts and velocity charts, there are few tools that stick them together in a meaningful way without someone having to go and fetch each part and sew them together.
To know the health and trajectory of our projects, we need data + context + commentary.
Without these, we risk misinterpreting progress, fixating on the wrong stuff and overlooking deeper issues or strategic opportunities.
Data — Operate ‘Lean Reporting’. Strip to the most impactful, essential metrics and charts.
Context — Every report starts with a reminder of goals, every part of the report is placed into the context of a project and/or goal.
Commentary — Get storytelling in plain English. Your readers should quickly understand what they need to know.
There are two more aspects of a good report. They’re concision and clarity.
Reports shouldn’t be long. They should be possible to scan in under 20 seconds, and possible to read in under 2 minutes. And, crucially, they should relay useful and actionable information.
The advent of GenAI means there’s now a way of generating context-rich and accurate reports automatically.
It’s called Stepsize AI.
I’m working on this with my team, and I’d love your feedback.
Stepsize AI observes everything happening in your issue tracker, and uses it to create concise, actionable weekly reports with the perfect amount of context and detail.
These weekly reports surface the most important metrics with scannable graphs and insights, and accompany them with all-important context and commentary.
Right now, it works with Jira and Linear, with more issue trackers to be supported soon.
This AI tool makes plenty possible that was time-consuming and impractical to achieve before, such as…
- Effortless, accurate development reporting
- Get people up-to-speed with reliable, automatic reports
- The metrics that matter, all in one place, with no setup
- Zoom in to projects you’re interested in for more detail
- Spot unexpected patterns at a glance
Plus, this tool is built with security in mind — you’re in control of your data, and it never trains any AI model.
I’d love to know what you think.
You can try it out here — your first report is free (and you won’t need a credit card for it).