Managers reviewing data in a meeting

A Guide to Running Outstanding Business Reviews

How to run a business review that elevates the most important issues, has a lower burden for content preparation, and generates impactful actions

In my past life as a Chief of Staff, I was involved in our business review process. It was the "Leadership Meeting", which ran weekly on Tuesday mornings, and was one of the most tense, and time consuming we had. But it was also one of the most valuable, as it was where we decided to focus our attention and resources.

The tension was inherent: We were surfacing and discussing the most critical issues facing the business - and couldn't always find good solutions.

But many of the problems we experienced were solvable:

This article summarizes my experience, and that of other data leaders I spoke to in order to understand how to run a great business review. Thanks to Justin Wagg from Quip, Dai Renshaw from Nala, and Cliff des Ligneris from GetYourGuide for their contributions.

Building a shared understanding and choosing where to focus

Most organizations have this kind of review meeting, though the names, format and cadence vary. It could be called a weekly business review (WBR), a management meeting or performance review.

However, the aims are broadly the same:

Business reviews are typically inefficient

To understand why it’s worth investing in making business reviews more efficient, consider a relatively typical process. This is similar to the process we ran.

A typical business review process

A typical business review meeting takes 5-10 employee hours

The steps to complete a business review are:

  1. Update Data: This tends to be a combination of copy-pasting screenshots from BI tool, and updating spreadsheets manually to update charts and tables. Prep may be distributed among a number of different stakeholders and their direct reports, with differing data skills.
  2. Add Commentary: Business leaders add commentary to explain what is going on in the data this week. Much of this is similar week to week, but some is very specific. This adds richness to the document and the later conversation. This is typically done in a document creation tool (eg Word, Notion, slides)
  3. Publish: Convert the document to a distributable format (eg PDF), or sharable link
  4. Distribute: Share the document, eg via email or Slack
  5. Run meeting: Use the document as the basis for discussion, recording actions and decisions
  6. Complete actions: In the following week, actions are (or are not) completed

"In my experience, teams typically end up taking screenshots of the same charts in Metabase and dumping them into separate slides."

– Dai Renshaw, Head of Data, Nala

There are common problems that make business reviews painful

Let's dive into the problems in a bit more detail.

Content preparation is slow and misses important detail

Good management meetings require good content. This means clear data on the business’ top metrics, as well as adding the knowledge and richness from departments or leadership.

"Readers get lost without appropriate commentary around metrics, using a medium that supports text really helps here."

– Justin Wagg, Head of Data, Quip

Meetings lose focus

Actions don't get completed

Problems fall into two buckets:

Streamline your content and focus on meeting outcomes

Addressing these problems means changing how you prepare and run your business review meetings. Things to consider:

Automate data preparation

Set up automated reports that create the right outputs without needing to download and update spreadsheets manually. Tools like Evidence connect directly to your database and pre-populate the data for review.

Focus on the most important metrics

Use the existing, or identify the “North-star” metrics for the business. Focus on these and frame the content around them.

"I stick to the north star metrics only (agreed by the business separately), and their first order drivers (which I defined myself). For example revenue is basket size multiplied by the number of orders, so I include both those metrics too."

– Justin Wagg, Head of Data, Quip

Empower a meeting moderator

Select a person in the meeting to act as a moderator. This need not be the most senior person in the room and is not a position of greater authority when it comes to decision making.

The responsibility of the moderator is to keep the meeting focussed. They can both identify when meetings are becoming bogged down and should move on, and take a role in managing the overall content, which can sprawl if not actively managed.

Be systematic about actions

Actions too often start and end their journey in communication tools, like email or Slack. These tools are poorly suited to managing actions as they quickly drop out of the top of people’s inboxes.

Explicitly assign actions to owners, and review their status at the start of the next meeting. It can be helpful to use a tool with task tracking abilities, to ensure they are resolved successfully.

Tools you can use

Alt text

Save 80% of content preparation time using Evidence for business reviews

Choosing the right tool can significantly reduce the burden of meetings where you review data.

The management meeting requires blending two types of content:

This can be difficult, as most tools are typically designed to make creating one of these content types easier.

Tool Live Data Explanatory Text Exec. Ready Output
PowerBI ✔️
Tableau ✔️
Looker ✔️
Word / GDocs ✔️ ✔️
PowerPoint / GSlides ✔️ ✔️
Evidence ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
A comparison of different tools for business reviews

Business Reviews with Evidence: A Management Meeting Template

Evidence is built to make narrative driven reporting easy. It's ideally suited to creating business reviews:

This means Evidence saves almost all the time you’d spend preparing content, as well as time spent on formatting slides and content: It looks professional by default.

We’ve put together an example template for running a weekly management meeting.

Business Review Demo App

Example business review report created with Evidence

# Business Review - {$page.params.year} W{$page.params.week_number}

Week commencing {week_start}.

## Last Week's Actions


## Summary

### Overall Month to Date

Sales for {month} to date are 
<Value data={orders_by_month} column=sales_usd/>:

{#each orders_by_month_by_category as category}
- {category.category}: <Value data={category} column=sales_usd/>

Sample code from the report

Steps to start your business review process with Evidence

To create your own business review document:

  1. Install Evidence and connect it to your data source. Evidence supports most popular data warehouses, as well as data files like CSVs.
  2. Create a templated page for the correct frequency of your review. For example, if you run a monthly review, create a page called [month-number].md.
  3. Populate the templated page with your Northstar metrics, adding appropriate context and explanation to each metric, chart or table. It can be helpful to organize by department or team.
  4. Deploy your Evidence site. Host it somewhere your team can access it.
  5. Share it with your team: This could be a link to the site, or you can export the report as a PDF and share it via email or Slack.
  6. Gather commentary from your team. Depending on how you share and run your meeting, this could be inline in the site, or in the email or slack thread where you shared the report.
  7. (Optional) Track Actions in Evidence: You can use Evidence to track actions, and be reminded of them in the next meeting.

If you want to give Evidence a try, head over to our getting started guide to get up and running.