Does this quote sound familiar? “We are collecting lots of data but I’ve no idea what we are doing with it”. It’s a comment I’ve heard from several senior managers recently. They know data can be valuable. But their growing stores of data don’t seem to be helping them make better decisions. In some cases, the data has become so overwhelming, decision-makers ignore it completely. The problem is that raw data isn’t very useful, and collecting more of it won’t help.

I was reminded of this while trying to squash “just one more thing” into the washing machine. Stuffing more clothes into the washing machine doesn’t make them clean. It’s only when you add powder and turn the machine on that the magic happens. Stuff too many clothes in, and the results get worse not better.
So what have my dirty socks got to do with creating insight? I blame the lure of ‘big data’. The default assumption these days is that more data leads to more informed decisions. But this isn’t true. Unless you have refined your data to produce a clear ‘so what’, it’s not usable. So before you stuff more data into your decision-making machine, let’s wash the data you already have…

3 tips for turning raw data into faster more informed decisions

Do you spend too much time collating and reporting customer data, rather than using it to take action? If so, try taking these 3 steps:

1. Define what your decision-makers need to know

Follow Stephen Covey’s advice and ‘begin with the end in mind’. Don’t start by asking ‘what can we measure’? Instead ask ‘what do we need to know to help us make better decisions’? Or, ‘what insights do our delivery staff need to consistently execute our decisions’? The key to creating insights is knowing what will be insightful.

2. Review your existing data from a decision-makers perspective

Once you know what insights you need, you can look at your current data through a new lens. Start by asking each team/department 3 questions:
– what research do you have about current/potential customers?
– what data do you have about current/potential customers?
– what do you ‘know’ about current/potential customers that isn’t supported by data?
Once you have a long list of data sources, review which bits of data can help with decision-making. There will be gaps I’m sure. That’s ok, at least you now know what you need to know.

3. Develop a simple process for creating and sharing insight

When it comes to insight, it’s important to be pragmatic. The aim is to make better decisions, not perfect decisions. Better could mean more consistent, more informed or just more widely accepted. Remember, people are already making decisions based on what they know, hear or assume.
The key to making faster and more informed decisions is getting everyone on the same page. So encourage everyone analysing data to:
– present their findings in a short and consistent format, so they’re easy to understand
– present their findings in the context of the decisions that people need to make
Making faster and more informed decisions is about continuous improvement. Don’t expect overnight miracles. Once you know what’s insightful, it becomes easier to create simple actionable insights.