“Everything starts out looking like a toy” (No. 15)
Observations at the intersection of data and systems by Greg Meyer
This week’s toy: A line of housewares devoted to disasters. The next time I have a catchy doodle, I’ll be reminded that sometimes small ideas lead to very successful businesses. Edition No. 15 of this newsletter is here - it’s October 10, 2020.
The Big Idea
How do you define the world of Data Operations or more broadly, the importance of data in a revenue organization? I’ve been asked this question a few times lately. Most people start by looking at the data points itself (e.g. data quality), then the coordination of data between teams (e.g. data compliance and governance) and don’t always mention what I think is a key element: the motion created by people in different departments using shared data to drive shared goals.
Here’s a sample visual:
You Need Data To Run Your Business
This is an obvious one. You need to identify key data points to run your business. These markers are going to be different in each business, but they need to provide a North Star that everyone looks at to see how things are going. Is it 12 month trailing Revenue? Is it the New Customer Count? Is it churn rate? Is it initial signups? It’s probably going to be some combination of the above that forms the basis of weekly, monthly, and quarterly conversations to see how you’re doing.
Once you have the “North Star” metrics, each department has submetrics (inputs) that they track to control the part of the business they influence. Sales Development Representatives track new meetings; Customer Service reps track happy and sad customers; Product teams track shipped features; and Sales people track closed-won deals.
Activity != Communication
Have you ever seen a situation where one department is hitting their metrics and another department wonders what they are doing? This could be the result of activity without communication. A good metric measures activity and suggests progress toward a shared goal. A great metric is understood by the whole company because it is either easily matched with a shared goal or is accompanied by continued communication about the achievements of that team.
Activity on its own can look like a rocking chair: measuring energy and movement but not going anywhere.
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
The Traffic Light Theory of Communication
If you’re reading this newsletter, you are likely the person who knows the most about your data and what it means on a microscopic level. You also intuit that your boss knows somewhat less detail about the data, and their boss a bit less. So how do you make this information relevant? You need to have a shared understanding, something like “this measurement means we’re green, this one means we’re yellow, and this means we’re red” to help the rest of the business orient to the information you know in detail.
Think of this as a A/B testing of your message to other departments within your company. If they don’t understand the importance of things you think are important, they literally can’t speak to you (and you to them) on the same level on business data where you need to collaborate. If your idea is not simple, make it simpler. It needs to be a 30 second pitch - 1 to 2 sentences that almost anyone in the company will comprehend and then have an idea how to relate what they are doing to the data you’re sharing.
The Company Needs You to be Right … When Asked
Activity + Communication = the potential to be right. Now, which problem are you solving? Hopefully it’s one the company needs you to solve. Urgent and important problems are the ones to focus on here, not just the loudest or the biggest problems. This might mean keeping a list of the “things to solve next” to avoid getting distracted from the things you need to solve right now. By the way, the things you need to solve right now might not be the most interesting. But they are probably the most important.
When you get asked? That’s the time to shine. Take your metrics, your activity, the relevance to the situation, and the demonstration that the effort will make a difference to the company’s bottom line. That’s the recipe for a winning project.
What’s the takeaway? It doesn’t matter if you have a great metric if no one knows what it means or how it will help your company.
We’d like to know …
Now that the various slowdowns/shutdowns for the Pandemic are hitting the 7 month mark, are you feeling comfortable with eating inside restaurants again?
Click the tweet to vote.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ Scale in dataviz matters - this graphic, related to the tragic explosion this summer in Lebanon, demonstrates the size of a 200 ton blast by comparing it to other ordinance. A sobering look at destruction.
2/ Change happens slowly at first, then suddenly - If you use checks, you are now in the minority. ACH Debit transfers now make up the majority of all payments (and I don’t think that’s going to slow down)
3/ How do fonts fail? - If you’ve seen sentences that look like Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£ or ☐☐☐☐☐☐ and wondered why, you might be a font nerd. And you might also wonder how the fallback happens. Martin Wicery - a typographic wizard, shares his insights.
On the Reading/Watching List
This is an amazing introduction to Statistics, and I’m including it here because it’s both a long read and good for information “snacking.” If you need a great information visualization for rolling dice, check it out.
It’s getting closer to October 30, when the next season of the Mandalorian drops one week at a time. Looking forward to seeing more Baby Yoda. This is the way.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
I’m grateful you read this far. Thank you. If you found this useful, consider sharing with a friend.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon