Product reporting: Creating a narrative to inspire action

A great product report goes beyond just presenting metrics. It tells a compelling story. Here’s how to forget spreadsheets and master product storytelling.

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A compelling product report influences teams and drives action. But, until now, achieving this was easier said than done.

Traditional product reporting tools like spreadsheets and dashboards make it easy to share metrics or present a graph. But, while essential, data and metrics alone lack meaning. They don't inspire action or rally teams. 

So, how do you translate product data into compelling insights?

In this article, you’ll learn about the value of engaging product reporting and how to lay the groundwork for success. We’ll also explore the secret to crafting product reports that inform, inspire, and influence team decisions.

What is a product report? 

A product report presents key metrics, insights and opportunities about a product’s performance and impact on the business.

You can use it to communicate user acquisition trends, revenue, customer feedback, or market research. Through product reporting, you can assess the success of a product, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions to drive growth.

Here are some examples of common product metrics:

  • Sales metrics: Revenue, sales volume, average transaction value, and customer lifetime value (CLV).
  • User engagement metrics: Active users, session duration, retention rate, bounce rate, and churn rate.
  • Customer satisfaction metrics: Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) score, and customer feedback ratings
  • Product usage metrics: Feature adoption rate, time spent on specific product features, and frequency of use.

But, metrics are just the beginning. So, what makes a great product report?

A great product report goes beyond just presenting and communicating data. It tells a compelling story that audiences can connect with by combining metrics with:

  • A clear vision: Storytelling paints the bigger picture.
  • Expertise: Explaining why the numbers matter in context to real business outcomes.
  • Customer Insight: Connecting metrics to customer pain points and needs.
  • Action: Clear next steps, guiding decisions and actions with an evidence based approach.

A traditional report might look something like this:

But, without context, these numbers don't convey much. This results in wasted time spent over email or disengaged stakeholders. Reports like these are a missed opportunity to create real understanding that might inspire your next great idea.

But we don’t need to create reports like this anymore. In the words of The Six Million Dollar Man, “We have the technology.

Here’s what modern reports can look like when we apply context:

It humanizes the data and contextualizes it for the reader. It weaves the metrics together with a narrative to drive understanding.

Let's say you are a product manager at a new social network. And, your team is focused on reducing churn.

Sharing a spreadsheet with churn and retention metrics isn't enough. You need to communicate context:

What are the drivers? 

What are the unknowns?

What are customers saying? 

Product reports should be more than static PowerPoints or uninspiring rows of numbers. 

They should be “living” documents with a natural flow — a clear starting point and obvious relationships between data and insight.

That way, cross-functional stakeholders can better consume, collaborate, and contribute to the process.

Why is product reporting so valuable?

A valuable product report can unlock a world of insights for your organization and drive forward fast, informed decision making.

Here are some of the main benefits of mastering product reporting:

  • Enables you to set and track key performance indicators (KPIs) more easily
  • Lets you spot patterns, trends, and early warning signals
  • Helps you break down complex product metrics into meaningful insights (e.g. financial metrics, like revenue, or adoption metrics, like daily active users)
  • Provides insight into your customers’ product usage and experience
  • Allows you to inspire your team to take action and innovate to create products that people will love.

Underling it all, product reporting is about communication, alignment and action.

With a good report, everyone knows about the business’s progress, opportunities, and challenges.

Since product touches every aspect of the business— engineering, design, customer support, sales—it’s a powerful tool to influence stakeholders across the organization.

How can reporting achieve this?

A compelling product report is not in the metrics, it's in the story.

Storytelling is essential to get buy-in and drive decision making across an organization. Explaining your data with context and connections helps get teams on the same page, removing friction and accelerating innovation.

Back in 2004, Jeff Bezos famously banned Powerpoint for 4-page memos (now, 6-page memos) to help foster 'discussion'.

According to Bezos, “The narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what's more important than what, and how, things are related."

Writer and creator, Trung Phan sums up Amazon's narrative framework for decision making from the book "Working Backwards" by former Amazon execs:

Source: Twitter

How to setup a compelling product report

When done right, a well-crafted product report creates a clear understanding of the business. It connects the product to real business outcomes. But, this is only possible with robust foundations in place.

Here are key steps to setup strong product reporting foundations:

Define clear objectives — First, it’s critical to paint the bigger picture so you can align metrics to real business outcomes.

Let’s return to our social network example. Our product goal is to improve retention. But, this goal doesn't exist in a silo. It ladders up to a broader business objective:

  1. Business goal: 10k MAU (monthly active users) by end of year
  2. Product Goal: increase retention

Identify the right metrics — Select metrics that align to your objectives and are actionable. Metrics like 'retention rate' are typically lagging indicators of success. Try to identify leading indicators that are easy to action on.

Following with our example, we might find that a 'higher number of friend connections' improves retention. We can optimize in the product by better surfacing potential friend connections.

  1. Lagging Metric = Increase retention by 20%
  2. Leading Metric = Increase avg. connections from 2x to 4x

Document your assumptions — Context is key. The key assumptions behind your metrics provide important context and a framework to evolve them. While objectives may remain steady, metrics should adapt to new information.

  1. Key assumption: more friends increases engagement

Capture customer feedback— Customer feedback humanizes your data and can help demonstrate what the data can’t capture on it’s own. Metrics are imperfect and you want to compliment them with qualitative insight.

  1. Make it a practice to talk with customers regularly. Schedule it.

Regular Review and Adaptation— Set a regular cadence to review and discuss metrics and your underlying assumptions. Embrace new information and challenge if your metrics are still the right indicators of success.

Share Actionable Insights — Don’t just share results. Summarize key takeaways, risk and opportunities succinctly and outline next steps for informed decision-making.

Former VP/CPO at Netflix, Gibson Biddle, agrees

When I meet a new company, I ask the exec team to force-rank growth, engagement, and monetization. I also ask them to identify a metric for each of these three factors.

The most important thing to remember when creating your product report is to convey the information so your team will understand it and what it means in the wider context.

The best product managers are great storytellers. Once you have these foundations in place, that’s where your storytelling skills come in.

How to use product reporting to tell a meaningful story

If you think about it, product reporting is all about people. You, as the creator. Your audience, as the stakeholders. And your customers, as the end users.

Products are built to solve people's needs. So it makes sense that product reporting should be done in a human-centric way, right?

Here's how to turn your report into a story that resonates with stakeholders, facilitates understanding, and sparks action:

Start with your why

A successful story always begins with a clear purpose.

What’s the core business outcome you want to achieve?

What's the problem you are trying to solve? 

Clearly communicating this “why” anchors your team to a bigger picture. The snappier your why, the easier it will be for others to understand and get onboard with.

For example, "our goal is to increase retention by 20% over the next year".

Clearly articulating the outcome, ideally in one concise statement, will make it easier to build your story with relevant assumptions and metrics like:

  • We've found that members with 8+ friend connections are 30% less likely to churn.
  • We shipped a new feature that recommends friend connections
  • Last month, we increased the average friend connections per user from 6.5 to 9.2
Top Tip: The metrics you choose to prioritize are crucial, but the context is even more important so. Find out why units matter to bring context to data.

So, start your product report with your goal (the business outcome) in mind. Keep it clear and concise. And remind everyone of it. Often.

That’s how to keep yourself, and your team, motivated and on track to achieve it. Here are a few tips from Amazon on how to write a concise and high impact statements with data:

Source: Danny Sheridan, Fact of the Day 1

Determine your audience

It’s essential to tailor your report to your audience so you can put it into a context that makes sense to them. Consider their roles, responsibilities, and motivations.

Who will read your product report? Are you presenting to executives, sales and marketing, or technical teams?

You need to know your audience and their pain points to capture their attention. And shape your story and metrics into something that’s meaningful to them.

For example, if you are sharing with the sales team, are there specific customers whose stories exemplify the success of your product?

If sharing with leadership, what's the decision that needs to be made? "We've increased retention by 10%, but need additional capacity from the infra team to scale our efforts"

Here are some examples for other audiences:

  • Show sales how NPS scores suggest issues with onboarding
  • Show engineering how speed and performance improvements are reducing churn
  • Show finance how your pricing adjustments are impacting adoption
Top Tip: Read our guide to find out why we believe it’s time to think outside the spreadsheet to communicate with data💡

When you customize reports for your audience, it’s easier to get their buy-in because they’ll already feel connected to the cause.

Use visual storytelling techniques

When audiences can actively explore data, they develop a stronger connection to it. Incorporate interactive scenarios that audiences can play with or charts and graphs that visualize complex data. Additionally, use storytelling techniques like anecdotes and real-world examples to bring the data to life and engage your audience emotionally.

Decipad helps you turn product reporting into a narrative and interactive document. You can combine, data, visuals and text in the compelling way we’ve talked about in this post. Decipad enables you to drive action and productivity with your data, beyond just metrics.

To get used to the narrative format and to learn how it works, we’ve created some templates for you to play with.

Here’s a Monthly Investor Update template and Startup SaaS Metrics template to play with.

Present actionable insight

It's crucial not to lose sight of the purpose of product reporting—making informed decisions.

Your goal is to create a human centric view of your product’s performance and make sense out of imperfect data. Be sure to always use product data alongside qualitative research and your team’s own expertise.

Michal Bloch Ron, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft Teams, agrees, “Data is one of several signals for us to spot problems or validate hypotheses. It’s not likely to explain the root cause or bring us revolutionary ideas.”

Talented product managers use reports to spot patterns and trends. But, the best merge these with their own experiences, gut instinct, and an intuitive tool that can convey it all.

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