10 ways to use “little data” to help your organization make better decisions

It seems like every time you turn around these days someone is talking about big data. Big data is changing the way we live and work as people find correlations between things that in years past would have never been connected. While I have no doubt that the way that big data has a big role to play in helping organizations look at the enormous complexity of their operations I think people often miss the mark in their planning by not focusing on “little data.” What is “little data?”— it’s that Thin Layer of information that makes a difference when it comes time to make decisions for our organization.
Little data is the stuff that is the stuff you absolutely have to know because it drives organizational decision making. It’s little because while the volume of information that could be and is captured in most organizations is huge, most of it is just noise. It is crowding out the stuff that really matters. The things that help you make decisions every day about investments, programs, projects and resources. The Thin Layer is difference making information, its three columns from one spreadsheet and four from another. It is the things you absolutely have to get right in order to steer the ship. In your search for the Thin Layer you should avoid simply accepting all the default columns on the management report. People only have so much mental space…use it wisely!
In the same fashion organizations only have so many resources so use them wisely as well. Don’t spend time and effort processing unnecessary data, building unnecessary reports, or managing data quality on things that don’t matter. That time and effort is better put to the decision making itself. One of the biggest failures I see in decision support is that people spend so much time gathering information and building the decision making process that they never actually get to making the decisions.
In today’s resource constrained business environments good decision making processes start light weight and become more mature and robust through iterations. I like to think in terms of two week sprints with six week iterative time boxes as we build decision support systems. These short time frames ensure that you don’t get so caught up in thinking big that you fail to deliver or over build. So how do you get started? I’ve put together a simple 10 step approach to getting the most out of the Thin Layer.
Building the Thin Layer of Information that Really Matters
  1. If you haven’t already figure out your information marketplace, start by figuring out what the critical decisions are in your organization. 
  2. Once you know what decisions need to be supported its time to figure out who needs to be involved.
  3. Work with the decision makers to decompose thise decisions into the information you need to support those decisions. Hint: They probably already have some reports they are using now to support decision making.
  4. Work together to determine the best way to provide that information in order to support decision making (form, access, messaging, timeline).
  5. Identify the sources of information required to support the decisions and an approach to gathering it consistently and accurately (Accuracy is critical!)
  6. Pull it all together including the people, processes, technology and information.
  7. Make decisions using the information to drive them. The whole point of this exercise was making better data driven decisions. It only works if you actually use it.
  8. Measure results. This can be tricky, but understanding the outcomes of your decision making helps drive the next iteration of your decision making process. 
  9. Make changes. Decision making processes are living things and need updating in order to be successful. Make sure you are capturing your outcomes so you can update your processes accordingly. 
  10. Every once in awhile repeat the entire process. As your organization changes you are going to have new decisions to support and new people to work with in order to support them. Having an annual or other regular time frame for re-evaluating your information environment is critical to long term organizational growth. 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

There is such thing as information overload

Information overload

I admit it. I get a little bit cranky when people say things like forms processing or document management. Not because I don’t think there’s a reason to have tools to help facilitate those types of activities but because I think by focusing on the processing of forms, you take away the focus on the outcomes that the organization is trying to drive. It’s one of the reasons why I talk so much about assessments because it is oftentimes a more apt phrase for what the organization is trying to do. When you gather information in a form, you generally gather that information so that you can evaluate something, perform a business process, or execute on the next step on some particular work flow.

The point of it is not simply processing the form or managing the document; it’s using the information that you collect to drive value for the organization as whole. That is why I think it’s so important to think about those types of things more from the standpoint of what are you trying to drive rather than the standpoint of simply managing information through a workflow. That mindset of management information through a workflow inevitably ends up with more information under management than is required. You end up collecting information because you can rather than because you need it to make a decision or to execute a business process and it’s a huge problem.

One of the amazing things about our modern technology environment is the ability to manage and store information. However human beings haven’t similarly upgraded their ability to process information in a way that enables better decision making. So the fact that you can store petabytes of data doesn’t mean that you should do it just because you can.  There are plenty of reasons to store information, to do big data type analysis, to make determinations of a whole host of different types of things, or to do ongoing investigations of things that might help your business. However if you’re trying to support a specific business process, I believe that you ought to keep the information that you gather to a minimum because there’s a real cost in gathering that information that goes far beyond what it takes to store it on hardware.  That’s the smallest component of that cost.  So that’s my piece and I’m sticking to it.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.