The telephone game


Data reporting should be based on a careful and reasonable input. Our colleague Niels wittily explains how not to get lost right at the start and why it is important to think things through. 💡💭

From assignment to completion

Imagine, you’ve been toying with the idea of remodeling your kitchen. But you’re always so busy, so you casually tell your partner how you’d imagine the new kitchen to be. But the other party is also pressed for time and so they hand over this (non)assignment to a friend whose husband is a carpenter and builds kitchens – well, of course, customized ones!

This example clearly shows the incompatibility between the haphazard assignment – desired outcome – completed product. And so certainly few of us would probably order a new kitchen in this way, which costs a lot of money and at the same time has to be as suitable as possible both practically and aesthetically, i.e. respecting our specifications and wishes.

Now imagine how such a (non)assignment, regarding the need to create a new report/dashboard/report/analysis (delete as applicable), would be conceived in the sterile environment of a corporation. Especially with this always being tailor-made and always for a lot of money. 💸

Hurry, I want a report!

A CEO has important decisions to make and advocates the proverbial “data-driven” or “intelligent” corporate culture. So, after a management meeting at the coffee machine (or urinal, depending on the length of the meeting), he instructs the CFO to come back in two weeks with a detailed customer analysis with turnover, margins and so on.

The CFO forgot to take notes right after the meeting, but a week later remembers that he should have something to show for the following week. In a time crunch, he drops by to see the head of the analytics team and tells him what little he remembers from the coffee-sipping CEO’s vision. The manager glances over it and assigns it to his best analyst – Vašek – who he runs into immediately after a meeting with other managers. 😊

An eager Vašek immediately sets to work, compiling a dataset and creating in Excel. But soon he stops and is not sure at all anymore. What exactly is it that they want him to do? Allegedly, a detailed analysis of turnover and order margins. For what purpose, though? Should Vašek show customers with high turnover and low margin? Low-turnover, high-margin customers? Also, there are too many customers to fit on one page. So, Vašek cleans the data, transforms it, combines all the sources and the resulting Excel file is several pages long. Nobody understands what such a “report” says, but his manager can gladly tick off another task: The goal was met and a new report created. 🎯

Are you catching on? Or perhaps you have recognized the environment in your company? If so, I’m sure you have an idea as to how it’ll all turn out. 🤓

The result won’t surprise…

In the end, the final meeting ends up just like our kitchen in the introduction – the carpenter tried his best, but it lacks storage space, the cabinets are too dark for our taste, the counter is too small. He didn’t listen to our wishes and requests because they weren’t properly communicated to him.

We call said corporate practice “the telephone game” 🤫✉️. Assignments are whispered around in various offices in the company, something is always being added or emitted and the result is a senseless chaos. And no one cares what the eager data specialists are supposed to make of it.

How can we get out of this? Cancel the telephone game!

  • Invest time in your data specialists like our Vašek. Give them the business context they need. Invite them to meetings, make sure they have a direct line to whoever requested a report.
  • Make sure that your data analyst doesn’t just focus on solving complex technical problems.
  • If you as a manager don’t have time to oversee the creation of a new report, are you willing to work with the results of a poorly specified report?
  • They say the best translator is a bilingual expert. So, teach your experts how to work with data and BI tools too.
  • Have a clear goal and use common sense when creating assignments. Afterall, you want to see everything important at a glance
  • Intensively collect feedback from end users, management and others during specification and development

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