Data collection and reporting is so much more than just sending out questionnaires and tallying the results. In this article, we’ve begun exploring some of the ways we can improve upon the relatively crude processes we’ve used up to now. In the last article, we talked about how to better collect and report data in general terms. In this post, we’re going to dive a little deeper into perhaps the most important part of your preparation for any data project: goal setting.
Setting Goals for Data Collection & Reporting
You must set goals for your data collection projects. Because people tend to feel that data collection and (to a certain extent) reporting are a means to an end, the associated process steps are not fully thought out. But when you sit down and examine what’s involved, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. And goal setting is essential to manage any process effectively. So let’s jump into the topic by asking a few questions about the work:
What is the purpose of this activity?
Is it to gain a greater understanding of your supply chain for your own internal understanding? Or is it a mandated action required to stay in business? Placing your project somewhere within this spectrum is extremely helpful for a number of reasons, not least among them is knowing when to stop. But it will also help to keep you organized as you do the work - gathering data can involve such a vast web of sources and repositories that you can quickly lose your place in the maze of it all. The right software can help a lot with this (we’ll talk about that later) but - even if you have the technology in place, nothing can replace the focusing power of a clear understanding of purpose.
This leads us to the next question:
What is the scope of the activity?
It’s a bit too easy to let your data management activities get out of hand. This is especially the case when we set sometimes-arbitrary goals for those activities, without first getting clear on what we’re trying to accomplish. Is the goal to get just enough data for some requirement? Is it to get all of the data – no matter how much or how long it takes – to gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject? Or is it something in between?
Properly managing any process or project means knowing when it’s done. Otherwise, it may seem (and often will end up) a neverending slog. So, before you dive into the grunt work, make sure you’ve considered the boundaries - where to start, where to stop, and how much coverage you need in between.
What is the problem?
It sounds a bit funny but before you start, you should ask yourself what is the problem you’re trying to solve? Are you not getting the data you need now? If so, why? Is there anyone in your organization who’s clearly in charge (and on top of) this important part of the business? If not, does that contribute to whatever the problem is?
There are many shortcomings to overcome in most organizations’ status quo data management processes, but setting up a system that doesn’t address your company’s unique challenges is no way to do it. This is especially true if you’re going to pursue a technological solution for your projects - your system is only as good (and as relevant) as the information you feed to it, so answering this question upfront is extremely helpful in keeping you in scope.
What are the symptoms of that problem?
In the course of building and running our business, we’ve come across all kinds of manifestations of “the data problem.” Do any of these ring true for you:
You have lots of data but don’t know who has it or where it is
You have different people in different departments collecting similar information without coordinating the activities
You have different mandates coming from different arms of the business?
Upper-level management doesn’t really understand the importance of these activities
As with human health, we would rather not focus on treating the symptoms alone – we would never get to the core of the issue that way. But don’t underestimate their importance, either – symptoms are very useful as clues to help define and address the larger problem.
What is the broad solution to the problem?
Look, we are a software company, so we’re going to tell you that software (in particular, ours!), is a part of the broad solution to the data problem. But note that we say “part” – no piece of software, no matter how sophisticated, is going to allow you just to flip a switch and walk away, only coming back later to admire the results of the computer’s hard work.
A key reason things don’t work that way is – well, it’s goal-setting! This means you have to take into account all of the resources it will take to get the job done, including:
How much time will each step take?
How many people (and which ones) does it require, both internally and externally?
Do I have the authority, such as backing from senior executives, to effectively seek and collect the data I need?
And, of course, which software will I use?
These and other similar questions will answer themselves as you explore them with your colleagues and relate them to past experiences. (And if you’re new to this, I would suggest you seek out someone who’s been through these particular kinds of wars before – there are likely to be many hard-won tricks hidden up their sleeves.)
What is preventing you from achieving your goals now?
Maybe nothing! It’s not the lack of software (though it does help – a lot), or the lack of time, or the unavailability of the right people. Yes, all of these things are essential to doing the job as well and as efficiently as possible, but setting clear, measurable goals is what usually stands in the way of companies’ achieving them. This means:
carefully crafting measurable (and achievable) goals
identifying the problems that are preventing you from achieving those goals
addressing the symptoms that are probably causing you the most acute pain
outlining a broad path to implementing the solution
plugging in the specific tools and resources so you can systematically address all of the issues you identified in your goal setting.
In future posts, we’ll talk about implementation, sourcing help, tools integration, and other important factors but if there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s that you have to identify a goal (at least one) and begin to assess the challenges within the context of solving that goal. Otherwise, the enormity, relentless growth, and seeming randomness of data collection, management, and reporting will get worse before they improve...
About Stacks Data
At Stacks Data, we are singularly focused on helping you create the workflows you need to source, collect, process, and report whatever “distributed data” you may need.
We do that with our people and our software, and can’t imagine one without the other. We’ve helped Fortune 500 companies as well as tiny startups (and everyone in between) to build customized workflows and then implement them with our patent-pending software (“Stacks”).
Our customers have dramatically improved their response rates, cut down on time and resources spent on these activities and, most importantly, gained peace of mind knowing that they have the information they need when they need it.