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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • April 7, 2015
  • minute read

Data & Decision-Making: 3 Key Questions to Ask 

This article is written by Predictable Success Consultant Alex Thatcher.
In order for any organization to break through Whitewater and ultimately achieve Predictable Success, there is one essential process that needs to change – the organization needs to begin making better, higher quality, team-based decisions. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that – it’s all about decision-making.
A key component of making better decisions is intentionally slowing down the decision-making process. Specifically, rather than making determinations based purely on anecdotal evidence, the organization must begin to deliberately gather the data necessary to properly inform future choices. However, this transition is rarely a smooth one.
Drowning in Data
When organizations hear that Predictable Success comes from building systems and processes and enhancing data-gathering ability, it is easy to predict a typical response for those in Whitewater – to immediately go on a crusade to put in systems across the organization that spit out a lot of data and information.
If you’re in the midst of this transformation, don’t confuse quantity of data with better data. Too many companies make the mistake of going from no information to information overload, creating mountains of data that never get looked at and certainly don’t facilitate better decisions.
So how can you ensure that you get through Whitewater without drowning in information along the way? By answering these three questions:
1. What do we need?
Begin by focusing only on the data that’s really important. While improved tracking of progress through metrics will help lead to better decisions, it’s unrealistic to immediately go from tracking nothing to gathering data that measures a hundred different items.
Ask yourself, what are the 3-5 key drivers of your business? Organizations, much like human beings, need to be able to crawl before they walk, let alone run. Don’t begin by immediately gathering information on every conceivable aspect of the business – begin by figuring out what matters most.
2. How do we get it?
Once you know what you need, you can then figure out how to get it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting where the underlying assumption is that some new database, tool, or system is going to solve all the organization’s problems.
What often happens is organizations spend a lot of money and then, a year later, realize the new system did not meet expectations. Why is that? It’s because of the tendency for people to put the system or tool ahead of the underlying process. You should always begin by building a manual process to collect the information you need. Then, and only then, once it’s perfected, should you investigate systems and tools that allow you to automate the process.
Always go in that order – process first, tool second. Focusing too early on buying a new system or tool is letting the tail wag the dog. It can lead to improperly redefining the organization, its processes, and the data/information examined based upon the system or tool’s capability (or lack thereof).
Proceeding in the right order will also ensure that you don’t overbuy a system with all kinds of bells and whistles that you’ll never end up ringing or blowing anyway. It will also prevent the premature build-up of mountains of data/information that will never be used to make any decisions.
3. Is it working?
Finally, you need to be at peace with knowing that not everything will go perfectly as you move through Whitewater. The path to Predictable Success is filled with bumps, twists, and turns. As such, you’ll need to continually evaluate if you’re looking at the right data, if you’re able to efficiently gather the data, and if that data is actually helping you make better decisions.
There’s nothing worse than weekly reports that someone spends a lot of time preparing for nobody to read or make decisions with. So after you implement data/information collection efforts, periodically revisit what you’re doing and ask if it’s helping anything. If not, then adjust.
Follow these three steps, and you’ll have precisely the information you need and the appropriate tools to help you get that data efficiently. When that happens, better decision-making is sure to follow!
How can you accelerate your organization’s way through Whitewater and in to Predictable Success? Find out here.


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