February 22, 2017 · Strategic Design in Practice

Rule of Thumb Reports

TL;DR - Reports take ages to write and no-one reads them anyway. Why not capture actions <=> insights as short principle statements?

In a world where people have short attention spans, who has time to traipse through long accounts of goals, methods, actions and results. If your goal is to inform next steps and/or avoid mistakes being repeated, capturing learning as 'principles' may make your report more useable.

Capture Principles as 'Rules of Thumb'.

Principles are simple statements that capture key insights and learning. They highlight real actions that you can take into future work. They describe rules of thumb to work by. A good example is the carpenter's 'Rule of Thumb'.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Or the software programming principle of

DRY - Don't Repeat Yourself

You might characterise these axioms as short tests, or acceptance criteria, that can be reframed as questions to yourself and/or your organisation.

In that instance:

Measure Twice, Cut Once becomes - "Before I make this cut...did I check my measurements?"

DRY - Don't Repeat Yourself becomes - Could I use or adapt some of my code to solve both problems?

Government Digital Service Design Principles

Another great example would be the Government Digital Service Design Principles.

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do Less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. This is for everyone
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

In fact lists of the 3, 5, 7, and 10 'things you should remember' are a good rule of thumb for creating rules of thumb.

So next time you're asked to produce a report. As well as churning out your hefty tome; why not make a rule of thumb report too. Test to see which is more effective in influencing action and avoiding past mistakes.

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