In God we trust, all others bring data.
That quote is attributed to W. Edwards Deming, a statistician who revolutionised Japanese business practices in the 1950s through the application of statistical methods. Today it’s commonplace for businesses to measure the traffic on their sites, and maybe measure the performance of online ads, but lately I’ve become obsessed with the possibilities related to increasing the breadth and depth of business metrics.
There are certain problems where collecting data is the hard part (for example, I’ve been working with Advolve Media to completely change the way ad performance is measured in the physical world) but most of the time businesses already have access to all sorts of valuable data that they’re just not set up to track properly. Even software companies are guilty of this; I finally set up logstash and Kibana on the Black Chair server yesterday to make analysing our server logs really easy, but before that a lot of our critical data was being launched into a proverbial black hole.
Obviously software companies have a bit of an advantage when it comes to collecting data, but every business is capable of doing it. The trick is to collect as much information as you can (you’re probably already doing this to a large extent; eg. your accounting records count as “collecting information”), but only focus on two or three indicators that are crucial for your business—for example, you probably have a pretty good idea of last month’s revenue, but do you know what portion of it came from repeat clients? The details will obviously change according to your business; the point is to spend some time thinking about which metrics are important.
Once you know which metrics are important, it probably won’t take more than 15 minutes per week updating an Excel spreadsheet with those numbers. After a few weeks you might realise that you actually need to be tracking something else, but you will end up with a much better idea of how your company is doing and how it can improve. Eventually, you may want to automate the process or analyse more data—that’s when a company like Black Chair might be really useful to you. You may also want to consider exposing some or all of those metrics to your team—I really like the idea of a “company dashboard” as an internal website or on a big screen in the office showing, for example, a real-time count of sales this month compared to the average or a stream of new client testimonials.