Analysis Paralysis: How I Stopped Worrying & Learned to Love the Data

With the amount of data and reporting programs available, it’s natural to have that deer in the headlights reaction. Where do I even start? How can I maintain the data and my reporting program? What data is important? And what ever happened to tan M&Ms?? [That last one might be unrelated.]

The granularity of data is the very thing that makes it both powerful and terrifying. When you have too much of it, your spreadsheets and reports seem to close in on you and making heads or tails of it all seems impossible. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and then take this approach to overcoming analysis paralysis.


A Good Look in the Mirror

Having metrics makes your ability to do your job and to show that you’re doing your job easier. Don’t be afraid of what the data says about your job performance or the performance of your department. Understanding the history of your metrics and the current trends will enable you to be more proactive and present opportunities to your team and organization. You need to have a solid understanding of your starting point if you’re going to decide where to go from there.

Cast a Wide Net to Start

Whether you’re new to a company, new to a role or new to reporting, starting or restarting should always involve casting a wide net. You don’t know for sure which data will prove significant so it’s best to start with more than less. It’s also important to analyze different time periods. Some changes to data may not seem significant month to month but maybe quarter to quarter or year to year there is a telling change. There may also be seasonality to your data; try comparing your data to the data of the same period of the prior year to get a different perspective.

Go Down that Rabbit Hole

Anomalies in the data or unexpected trends can throw you. Sometimes you should get lost in the weeds to answer a specific question. The key is not to do it every time you run your data or you’ll never have time for your day job. When data perplexes you, determine what secondary or supporting data might help explain your confusion and systematically rule in/out theories this way. Proceed through this process until you have resolved the issue. This will lead to a better understanding of your data set as a whole and also your ability to vet and explain data.

Narrow the Field

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with your data and you’re on a first name basis, you should start honing in on your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators.) What data do you need to track your success? What data shows your department’s success? What data do other stakeholders care about? By deciding what’s important, you can create measurable goals and a path to achieving them. This will also help you fine tune and optimize your reporting program so that wide net may not be necessary for monthly reporting and your rabbit holes have all been explored and explained. Focusing on your KPIs will make maintaining the reporting program you’ve established more manageable and meaningful. Gain consensus from your peers, management and other stakeholders as to what you will be tracking and reporting so that you create both accountability and visibility for your goals and ultimately, your success.


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