3 Ways the Wrong Data Can Lead to Failure

November 15, 2016 Heather Hurst

Data drives almost every decision we make.

Data drives almost every decision we make. What time to leave for work, the number of appetizers to order for a table of four (answer: all of them), and how much work output it’s going to take to achieve your goals in the workplace. Even when we don’t realize it, we’re dipping into a database of knowledge for insights into how to proceed with an action.

So what happens when you don’t have enough data to make a decision? Or--maybe worse--you leverage the wrong data? It can lead to anything from a nuisance (I’m still hungry due to a lack of appetizers) to a complete disaster (we didn’t make quota and the company is now shuttered). As Peter Drucker so brilliantly said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Let’s examine three bad data scenarios that can derail you.

You Don’t Know How Much Things Cost

Track and estimate all costs.

All work has a cost: time, money or both. If you don’t have the right data to guide you with any of those things, you’ll be in a world of hurt. You may be thinking that misjudging monetary costs is the worst (think: Sochi Olympics), but miscalculating the time something will take leads to overtime, which leads to burnout and a lack of trust with you and your colleagues.

So, how can you know how much time and money things cost? Track and estimate.

Let’s start with time. Think about any given month in your work life. Chances are you do a lot of the same things over and over again. Start tracking how much time you spend on any of those tasks. Include the time it takes to execute the work, but also the time it takes for you to chase approvals, manage follow up, etc. There’s often much more to a task than you really think.

When it comes to monetary costs, you can do things much the same way--keep track of historical costs and the various elements that go into a total cost for a project. Then very carefully build cost estimates that include everything. This may sound odd, but even the most obvious of costs can be forgotten if you don’t document everything that goes into a project. For example, you may know the cost to train your team on a new skill set, but forget that you need to print booklets and pay travel for your trainer.

You Didn’t Set the Right Metrics from the Beginning

Communicate to set the right metrics, right from the start.

Have you ever gone on a flight without a clear destination? Probably not. You knew you wanted to go to Toledo and you bought a ticket that would take you there. Unfortunately, work processes aren’t always that clear. Often we get caught up in the work (get a report to me by Monday!) without a clear understanding of what we’re working toward (what is the report supposed to tell you?). If you don’t take the time upfront to define the metrics you’re going to track, you’ll end up trying to correct course mid-flight, when your Toledo plane is somewhere over the Pacific.

So, what can you do to avoid the duplicate (or quadruplicate) work that always comes from tracking toward the wrong data? Communication is key. Take the time to clarify upfront what you are working toward, and the key metrics you’re going to track.

Then decide on the right data set to roll up to your goals, and settle in for the long haul of regular check ins. Be willing to change your approach if the numbers don’t show the right kind of results.

You Try to Hide the “Bad” Numbers

Use data to learn from a failure, not hide from it.

Not all work is a win. That’s just the way it is. That doesn’t mean you should hide from the data.

Let’s say you did everything right: you knew the total cost of a project and you decided ahead of time which metrics to track, but the project still failed. The numbers said so. It’s tempting to search for a different spin on the metrics that could show you were actually successful, but as all teachers say, “this is a chance to learn.” You may have run a digital campaign that flopped. You may have built an internal program that was a miss. See it as a chance to improve so you can do better the next time. The great thing is that data will help you do just that.

First, look at the data to see what could be done better. If you don’t have what you need in your initial data set, run some additional tests, such as an A/B test on a campaign. You’ll often find that with a simple tweak, you can get back up and running toward your goals.

Then, identify what you could do in the future to avoid a similar failure. That could mean more regular check-ins with your metrics in order to see the signs of derailment sooner, or it could mean that you didn’t have the right tracking in place to begin with.

The right data will help you reach your goals

The absence of reliable data will always impair decision making and, ultimately, lead to failure. The key is to understand at the beginning of a project what you hope to accomplish, and how the metrics will guide whether or not you’ve reached your goals.

About the Author

Heather Hurst

Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.

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