Broken windows theory applied to BI – clean up your reports so they don’t end up in the trash

The broken windows theory is a social sciences theory. It claims that maintaining the form of the environment prevents crime and social disorder. Malcolm Gladwell discusses this theory in his book The Tipping Point and examines how it was used to address the crime “epidemic” in New York in the mid 1980’s. This theory was put to the test in other areas of the country and succeeded every time. The concept is simple: if a burglar walks down a street and sees a broken window, he is more likely to enter through it. Or in a simpler form, if you walk down a dirty sidewalk, you are more likely to drop the dirty napkin you are left holding after finishing your hotdog, then holding on to it until you see a trash can.

 The idea is that the details of the environment affect how we perceive it and ultimately interact with it and with others that surround us within it.
While this makes perfect sense and passes most people “reality check”, others find it highly controversial since it implies that our behavior is more influenced by our external surrounding then our inner characteristics. While I understand this point of view, and like to think of myself as someone who generally “does not litter”, I have to be honest with myself and admit that walking down that filthy sidewalk, I might accidentally drop the dirty napkin…
What does all that have to do with BI?

The concept of attention to detail is what makes the difference between a crime ridden neighborhood, and a safe one, the same way that it does between a widely adopted and trusted report and one that is almost never used.
In a prior post, I wrote about  “The two prerequisites for any BI project: It has to be right. It has to be pretty”. Another way to phrase this same concept is: you must pay attention to the details of your BI project and assure that every tiny aspect of the design is addressed in order to be successful.
If your report does not reflect utmost thoughtfulness and care for the basic usability and aesthetic scenes of your users, It will not be adopted, and even if it is a marvel of technology, it will fail.
If the report labels have spelling mistakes, unnecessary complex formatting and coloring, bad use of screen/page realestate, etc, your users will get that “dirty sidewalk” feeling and the fate of the report is likely to be the same as that dirty napkin.

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