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Data, Data, Everywhere

Posted February 2, 2009 10:56 AM by Dylan Miyake

Many of the organizations we work with are literally awash with data but totally bereft of insight. They track everything, from website hits to donation rates to recidivism. But they have no way of knowing whether or not they're making progress against their mission.

The reality is that many organizations do not measure their strategy -- they just measure their operations. And since they don't know what matters, they attempt to measure everything. This creates hours and hours of wasted time, effort, and paper.

The first thing we do when we start working with an organization in data overload is to take a step back and work with them to clearly define the strategy and put it on one piece of paper (You can read more about this process elsewhere in the blog). We then work to define a set of measures that tell them how they're doing against this strategy (read more here).

Once this foundation has been put in place, however, we start working on the process of managing strategy and placing the data in context. Context is what converts the sea of data into useful, and actionable, knowledge that can be used to drive decisionmaking.

Placing this data into context is not difficult -- the process we typically use involves four steps:

  1. Limit the number of measures to be discussed to a manageable few. We usually recommend no more than 10-15 strategy measures. More than this and you risk losing focus on the key drivers of your strategy.

  2. Prepare commentary by measure owners well in advance of each meeting. For example, if average number of page views is going down, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Why? What's being done about it?

  3. Send out a document with the data and the commentary 1-2 days before each meeting and insist that everyone read and understand it before coming to the meeting. Ask clarifying questions or question the data beforehand.

  4. Use the review meeting to make decisions. Document these decisions and hold people accountable to the decisions that were made. Track action items and project milestones.

Organizations that follow these simple steps have a much better chance of focusing on key drivers and placing data in context to drive decision-making.

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Yes - operational management of the strategy is often a "skipped" step in organizational improvement. It seems that the C-level "captains" point the ship in the right direction and let it sail. A proper deployment integrates a careful reporting, review, and reaction plan in order to handle the rapids that will occur in a dynamic, global environment. At StrategiCorps, we use a method termed "STORM" to drive this home, and to soldify our clients' success.
# Posted By Jim Bowie | 3/4/09 7:03 PM
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