Decisions Before Data

I’ve been giving some consultations and on metrics lately. People ask for advice and show desire to have data in their decisions. Data, as opposed to opinions or, worse, looking at the crystal ball or superstition. We talk concepts, we dive into specifics of their situation: organization, services, teams, products, and we spend a fair bit of time on people’s feelings and perceptions. Something interesting becomes clear.

You have to put decisions before data.

This sounds counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we gather data before making a decision?

No, first you have to decide what kind of decisions you want to make. What will you decide about and how?

If you know what you’re deciding about, people can find the data to support your decision-making method. To help you decide. People will find the right amount data, what’s really necessary. They will find an easy way to get the data, not wasting time or overpaying for information that matters little in the decision.

In the words of a decision research expert Douglas Hubbard,

You most important decision is the decision-making method that you’re going to use.

(said in his LKNA13 keynote).

But if data come first, then it’s the opposite story. Too much data, too much time or effort to get them, not sure what to do with them, and people may be afraid of what decision will be made. Is the decision you’re thinking of making to fire or promote me or one of my peers? I might bring different “data” to help you make your decision!

A natural question arises here, wouldn’t it be better if we had a healthier organizational culture where people felt safe and could gather their process metrics without fear of repercussions?

Depending on how much margin your business has for wishful thinking, you can revisit this question in the future — or you can start now to increase the transparency of what you decide and how.

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