Ways to plan/design a report before touching the server

This may sound strange but I'd like to start designing a report on paper before I approach a server.  I graduated from Computer Program/Analyst years ago and I've been looking for a way to plan out a report before tackling the code.  I'd also like to have reference material for my boss in case they don't extend my contract after July so its clear what the parts are that make up the report.  

My Google searches return how-to's of making the actual report but very few with good planning to make the developing easier.  Does anyone know of any good resources or something I'm not specifically asking for in my searches that can help me find information on planning my reports?
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WHat tool are you planning to use?

One of the best ways I have found that helps to create a report is a mock up either because you are converting existing reports so you ahve an example or just a mock in Excel or even Power Point

The mock up doesn't need to show real data just an example of the desired format.

It is also helpful if it isn't clear from the mockup, what the fields are, formulas or equations for the calculations.

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Jason YousefSr. BI  DeveloperCommented:
Are you planning to design the report from End of March till July?

I'm not sure of the idea of using a paper or pen these days, there're many ways to design the report, even your can drag a table on WORD or EXCEL and plan your column on it...

reference material for my boss should be your documentations when you finish the report to show which part you've used and what queries you're using to retrieve the data.
ValentinoVBI ConsultantCommented:
The way I plan implementing a report is by:

getting a good understanding of the requirements

In an ideal situation, you would have been handed over a document written by a Business Analyst, which clearly explains the expected outcome.  If layout is important, it should be mentioned in full detail.  If flexibility is important (parameters) it should be mentioned as well.  If anything is not clear, you should go back to the BA and ask for clarification.

In a less ideal situation, make sure you talk to whomever has asked for the report, or the person closest to them as you can get to, and try to get as many details as you can.  What do they want to see, how do they want to see it and how do they want to manipulate the data?

testing out the possible blocking factors

If there's something in those requirements that requires some technical knowledge that's new to you, try it out in a small example!  For instance, if you're new to conditional formatting and the report should color the rows in a table differently for each product category, tackle that problem first.  Having a good understanding of how you can achieve each separate part of the requirements will help you to build the whole and finally reach the goal!

Time to build the actual report!

If the report is really complex, you may need quite some days to get it finished.  Try to arrange a couple of meetings with the requester before the report is fully done. That way you can handle misunderstandings early in the process, thereby not wasting time building something that no one wants to see...

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HSI_guelphAuthor Commented:
I will be using a virtual Microsoft Server 2008 R2 and Report Designer in Business Intelligence Development Studio to access a virtual MS SQL 2005 server.  

One of the biggest challenges I face is that the database was set up by the company that provides the accounting and time-tracking software the company uses so the database is a big mess.  Without the expertise of a database developer there are tons of redundant data, no documentation or even in database information to identify what the fields represent, many empty/unused fields and tables that just don't make sense.  

I want to be able to have a broad overview of the entire report and be able to see where data will be needed and how to get to that data.  I think I need to implement Lookups to get around some of the challenges.

The reports are not designed but are printed reports from the CPA program that they want to add more functionality to.  So I recreate the report and include what the CPA program can't or doesn't.  The company also wants to start using their Sharepoint site and get the employees using it so reports will be accessed through Sharepoint.

I've made up a couple of example reports in excel but I don't have a step-by-step plan in my head of how to go from start to finish in the report process.  Now this isn't a set in stone methodology, I just mean that my mind will identify the first thing to do, then the next, then next, etc.  With so little information and documentation present in the workplace, I'd like my stuff to be the exception.
ValentinoVBI ConsultantCommented:
You have indeed correctly identified the biggest challenge here.  And it's a really good thing that you're going to document this, it wil prove useful afterwards.  To be honest, the whole situation sounds like the perfect scenario for failure...

What I would do is, for each "field" on the report, keep track of what table.column it is coming from.  The tool doesn't really matter that much, though I'd probably go for Excel.  But what matters most is that you know exactly where the data is coming from.

Once you've written that down, make sure you get it reviewed and approved by your manager.  This way you're not the one to blame when stuff goes wrong.
HSI_guelphAuthor Commented:
Thanks everyone for your input!

I went into the database and executed a query to return all the table names and their field names so I have a nice little booklet now that I am making notes on so we know what fields are as we figure them out.

I don't think we will be able to get a fool-proof report and we'll need live users to point out any discrepancies but I'm already having to make changes and suspect it will be an ongoing process.  I think creating lookups either in the report or on the database itself will help improve the performance of the reports since they are pretty slow running for the first time.

Thanks again!!
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