How To Make Data-Driven Decisions When You Don't Have Data

 Image Credit: Pixabay; _Marion

Image Credit: Pixabay; _Marion

In 1934, T.S. Eliot famously lamented the empty soul of modern work life. Though he wrote “Choruses from the Rock” over 80 years ago, he hits a nerve in our present-day struggles by asking, "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we lost in information?" In current times, we have so much data at our fingertips, but does that mean we are making better decisions? Today, the core of data analytics is simply using information to make well-informed decisions. The only difference today from 80 years ago is that we simply have more information available to make decisions and more sophisticated methods to use this information. 

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A question that I get time and time again from managers is “How do I make data-driven decisions when I don’t have any data?” As a decision maker, it’s incredibly frustrating to feel hampered by a lack of data.  Despite wide availability of information, companies might not put data into the hands of decision makers for a couple reasons. Maybe the organization does not have an effective way of capturing data—this happens in companies that have older technology in key areas of the business. Or maybe the data they have is too messy—for instance, perhaps they can track customer quotes online, but they have no way of cleaning up the 30 different customer quotes that actually were generated by the same person. In other cases, data is kept sectioned off in certain parts of a company, but it is not shared widely with people whose decisions depend on the information. For whatever the reason that managers feel like they do not have access to information to make an informed decisions, there are a few guidelines you can follow to ensure that you are making the right decisions.

The key is not to get more data – it’s to get the right data.

It’s important to keep in mind you can have all the data in the world and still not have the information you need. The key is not to get more data – it’s to get the right data. In research from the book Stop Spending, Start Managingexecutives reported wasting an average of $7,731 per day—or $2.8 million per year—on wasteful “analytics.” The first step to making sound decisions is to recognize what that “right” data is for your business. Once you identify this, you can cut your time looking at reports significantly because now you have a strategy. You know exactly what you need to see to make a decision, and you can see through the noise of mountains of data that don’t add value to your decisions. 

Executives reported wasting an average of $7,731 per day—or $2.8 million per year—on wasteful “analytics.”

If you don’t have access to the data you need at work, here are some steps you can take:

1.      Identify your business goals.  Here’s your opportunity to start at square one and holistically rethink how your decisions are made. This entails taking a 50,000 foot view of your business to make sure that you’re asking the right questions. We often get in the habit of process, and we repeat process patterns of looking at old reports that don’t tell us what we really need to know. If your business unit always looked at a set group of metrics, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and to see it as a bad decision to stop looking at a certain report. But I recommend taking a step back to ensure you’re asking the following questions before even looking at any data:

·        What are the business objectives for which we are responsible? (In other words, what are our goals?)

·        What are the crucial areas of the business that we need to be tracking?

2.      Identify which data you need to track progress on your goals. What data do you need to see to be able to track progress on these goals and to make sound decisions? In most cases, every business goal you cite has one or multiple metrics that will help you to gauge progress against that goal.

3.      Examine your data access. Identify which of these must-have pieces of data you have access to. For the data you don’t currently have access to, identify how you can get access. This can be as easy as requesting access from another department, or as hard as implementing a way to capture new data.

4.      If needed in the short term, identify proxy data for the information to which you don’t have access. When you can’t access crucial data, is there a proxy measure that would tell you the same thing? For instance, if you have no way today of tracking the number of customers who are calling with a particular complaint, can you poll your front line customer service representatives to identify trends in complaint themes? Finding a short-term proxy for needed data will provide you with some useful information. The proxy is not a perfect solution, but in the short term it’s better than using no information at all.

5.      Start the process of gaining access to the data that you need. As simple as this sounds, if you’re in a situation where you don’t have access to crucial data, the goal is to exit this reality as soon as possible. Whether this means insourcing or outsourcing to gain access to data you need, there’s simply no business case for continuing to manage without the right information.

The guiding principle of how to manage your data is to identify what data aligns with your goals—if you don’t have access to this data today, the best place to be is somewhere on the track to gaining access to this data. Identifying proxy data is a bridge to dealing with an undesirable situation, and moving towards one that puts you on the right path. But it is important to not accept a lack of data within your company simply because it’s “the way it’s always been done.” If you find yourself clamoring for meaningful metrics, creating a process to get this data involves some work--but there are huge rewards for your business in the end.

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BetaXAnalytics is a healthcare data consulting firm that helps payers and providers to maximize their CMS reimbursements and helps employers to reduce their healthcare spending through proven strategies to contain costs. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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