A person climbing a wall, representing ad-hoc reporting.
Ad-Hoc Reporting: For When You Need a Report Right Now
A person climbing a wall, representing ad-hoc reporting.

Ad-Hoc Reporting: For When You Need a Report Right Now

Data-driven decisions are better decisions. But that data isn’t always accessible. Sometimes, a stakeholder needs a report outside of a defined reporting schedule or a team member suddenly needs a report on something right now. Whatever the exact case may be, you’re dealing with ad-hoc reporting.

Let’s dive into this practice, how it’s done, and some of the pitfalls you’ll need to watch out for.

What is ad-hoc reporting?

Ad-hoc reporting refers to when teams and individuals report on something outside of a normally planned reporting cycle or dedicated reporting tools. This gives stakeholders and other collaborators the ability to get insights on a project, an initiative, or a team without waiting for a scheduled report. It also means that a data scientist doesn’t need to be involved.

You might be asked to provide a report on how a project is going because your manager needs to answer critical questions in an upcoming meeting. Maybe you need to report on a specific team’s workload to explain why they can’t take on additional work. Or the CEO has noticed that sales volume has decreased and wants answers right now. Whatever the need may be, ad hoc reporting happens when a report has to be produced right now to answer specific business questions.

Because reporting tools have become so common — and easier to use — anyone can contribute to a reporting workflow. Whether you’re using a dashboard to share insights with a stakeholder or crunching data through your project management tool, you don’t need to be a data scientist to build reports.

What is ad-hoc reporting used for?

Ad-hoc reports are essential for organizations that don’t want to be limited to rigid reporting cycles. They give everyone access to crucial insights when they’re needed, rather than whenever the next scheduled report is supposed to be released. Here are a few examples of situations where ad-hoc reporting might happen.

For a meeting

This might mean multiple teams are coming together to discuss an ongoing project and need up-to-date information or a manager needs to report on their team’s workload when meeting with a department head. Either way, someone will need to create ad-hoc reports that can be referred to during these meetings.

Kickstarting a new initiative

Before embarking on a new project, a project manager will usually want to review any existing data that can help them draft a comprehensive plan. If specific reports aren’t available — like variance or project status reports — they may ask for them to be produced ad-hoc.

Reacting to problems

If a team or project runs into a serious issue — like a collaborator suddenly leaving — they may be asked to draft a report that summarizes how it will impact their work. This can give stakeholders and other decision-makers the data they need to make the best possible decision.

Some initiatives have scheduled reports, but it doesn’t always make sense to wait for the next report to drop. Other workflows don’t have any planned reporting at all, and people need to create reports as needed.

What are the benefits of ad-hoc reporting?

After all, why do you need ad-hoc reporting at all? Isn’t it better to just wait for the next scheduled report? Well actually, it turns out that ad-hoc reporting has a number of advantages:

Faster decisions

Because people don’t have to wait for a scheduled report, ad-hoc reporting enables everyone to make important decisions faster, knowing they have the right data at their fingertips. The best ad-hoc reports use simple tools and automation to create self-serve reports, meaning that the average business user can consult them at any time.

Plugging holes in established workflows

No project manager is all-knowing. Sometimes, the official scheduled reports just don’t come with enough frequency to satisfy everyone’s needs. Ad-hoc reporting can mitigate these problems.

Fine-tuning reporting processes

By looking back on how often you need an ad-hoc report for a specific project, you can figure out how you can improve your process for future projects. You can then reduce the number of ad-hoc reports you create in favor of traditional reports.

Making data more accessible

Because ad-hoc reporting relies on tools most teams already have access to, they don’t need to be data scientists to use data when making decisions.

What are the challenges?

Even though ad-hoc reporting can streamline some of your workflows, it’s not without its challenges. Here are some things to consider before you make spur-of-the-moment reports part of your projects:


Even though there are a ton of great tools out there for simpler reporting, gathering data from multiple sources to create a single report can be complicated. It’ll also eat up a lot of your time. You can mitigate this by using premade templates.

Getting accurate reports

Sometimes you do need a data scientist. When trying to report on more complicated processes that involve multiple tools and technical processes, it can be tough to provide accurate data. If you use dedicated ad-hoc reporting software — usually a business intelligence platform — make sure it integrates seamlessly with the numerous data sources you need to use.

Report overload

If you want to rely on ad-hoc reporting, you have to clearly communicate when and how this is appropriate. Otherwise, the fact that there aren’t defined processes around this kind of reporting means you could accidentally have multiple people reporting on the same thing.

Static reports vs. ad-hoc reports

A static report is usually contracted with a dynamic report — the main difference between them being the period of time they’re pulling data from. A static report essentially takes a snapshot of a timeframe that’s already happened, which can be anything from a single day to a full year. In contrast, a dynamic report gives you the latest up-to-date data. That means it never becomes outdated — a distinct advantage over the static report — but it can be more time-consuming to create. It also isn’t necessarily the best fit in all situations.

So where do ad-hoc reports come in?

An ad-hoc report can be either static or dynamic, depending on the need. That’s because “ad-hoc” refers to the way the report is produced, not the underlying data it contains. They’ll usually be static reports, only because they’re easier to create and usually meant to quickly communicate specific data — rather than providing up-to-date information.

5 tips for teams who want to get it right

If you plan on using ad-hoc reporting in your projects — and who isn’t — here are some tips for building the smoothest reports possible.

Clearly identify the need

“I need a report on that project you’re working on” isn’t clear enough. Make sure you know exactly what information the requester needs, what success metrics they’re looking for, and what kind of format they expect this report to come in.

Don’t hesitate to use a template

Has this kind of report been created in the past? If so, just duplicate it instead of starting from scratch. There’s no need to make things more complicated than they have to be.

Try using tools you’re familiar with

Sure, there’s nothing quite like a complex spreadsheet with a ton of charts and tabs. But if the reporting features built into your project management tool can accurately provide the same information, why not use that instead?

Get someone to double-check our work

Having someone who knows how to work with data look at what you’re doing would be ideal, but it isn’t necessary. Even just getting a second pair of eyes on your report can be enough to avoid common mistakes.

Review your own work

The same way that a tenacious typo can slip past multiple people, an error in your data can linger until the final report. Make sure you check your sources and look through your data before you send your report to anyone.

Ad-hoc reporting doesn’t have to be a mess

Whether a stakeholder can’t wait for a scheduled report or the report wasn’t planned in the first place, ad-hoc reporting is a great way to give people access to data without getting stuck in rigid processes. As long as you’re using the right tools, you don’t need to be a data specialist to build these reports, and you can give everyone insights into your projects and your team’s work.

Ad-hoc reporting FAQ

Still have questions about ad-hoc reporting? Here are the answers.

What is an example of ad-hoc reporting?

Say you’re a project manager, and you’re about halfway through an assigned project. You’ve set up a monthly reporting schedule, but something comes up. Maybe a collaborator leaves the project or you find out another team is working on a similar project. Whatever the trigger is, something changes and a stakeholder asks for a report.

You might be asked to create an ad-hoc report explaining how your project’s resources will be affected by a person’s departure or breaking down the work you’ve already done to compare with another similar project.

How can I create an ad-hoc report?

In most cases, you can create ad-hoc reports in the same way you usually present information in your regular, static reports. But if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a quick step-by-step guide.

Be clear on the report’s purpose

Before you even start looking at data, you need to know what your report is going to accomplish. Who’s asking for this report? What does it need to include? Is this going to be a one-time report or will you need to create it again?

Pick the right tool

Not all tools are created equal. If you just need to write a quick report with a bit of data, you can get away with using a word processor. But if you need to pull in data from multiple sources, a business intelligence or dedicated reporting tool will be a stronger choice.

Look for a template (or just inspiration)

No matter what kind of report you’re creating, you can bet there will be a ton of templates you can use. Some of them will even work naturally with whatever tool you’ve chosen. If templates aren’t doing it for you, you should at the very least spend some time looking up similar reports. This will give you a good base to start from.

No template? Make your own

Just because an ad-hoc report falls outside of your usual reporting schedule doesn’t mean you can’t use it to your advantage. When you’ve figured out what you need, turn whatever report you create into a template. That way, you’ll have something to build off of the next time a stakeholder asks for a report — and there will be a next time.

Get feedback

Once you’ve drafted your report, consider getting a second set of eyes on it before you submit it. Whether it’s someone on your team, a project manager from a completely different project, or even a mentor, getting feedback will ensure you create a report worth reading.

What are some examples of ad-hoc reporting tools?

Your ad-hoc reporting tool of choice will often be the same sort of tool you’d use for your regular reports. Here are some popular options.

Project management tools

Many project management tools, like Asana or monday.com, can be effective ad-hoc reporting tools. They have built-in reporting features you can use to quickly create an ad-hoc report.

Spreadsheet tools

Your spreadsheet tool is great for a lot of things, and that includes reporting. You can spin up an ad-hoc report pretty quickly, especially if you use templates.

Business intelligence tools

These platforms pull data from multiple sources and display it in one place, making them great ad-hoc reporting tools.

What’s the difference between ad-hoc and standard reporting?

The main difference between these two types of reporting is when they happen. Standard reporting usually happens as part of a pre-defined workflow, a team’s internal processes, or a project’s reporting schedule. Ad-hoc reporting is just that: ad-hoc. It might happen because a specific stakeholder asked for a report or another team needs an update.