The Seven Deadly Sins of Data Delivery


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The downfall of society has always been characterized by our sinful nature, which infects our daily actions and relationships. Without proper knowledge and recognition of our shortcomings, it is difficult to perceive the impact that these behaviors can have on everything we do – including our reporting practices – let alone remedy them. However, we have the opportunity to regain control of our reports by vowing to never commit the seven deadly sins of data delivery:

snake on an apple

Lust: Give me what I want!

Lust is an intense desire. In reporting we are often culpable of lusting for the numbers to bend in our favor, support our ideas, and show the stakeholders that what we’re doing is working. Unfortunately, we must accept that reports are there to show us the good and the bad, and not every campaign will have the results we’ve craved after. However, because reports provide us with the blunt truth, we should use them to help us continually better our decision making to achieve total organization optimization.

How can we fight our reporting lust? We should change our way of thinking to ensure we are truly searching for the truth in order to expand company-wide initiatives and make sure we are achieving our objectives. Understanding our aims will help us take advantage of the results and and act accordingly to boost our performance.

Gluttony: Too many micro metrics.

Whoever thought up the phrase, “more is better”, obviously never worked in reporting. Saturating dashboards or reports with unnecessary amounts of information overwhelms stakeholders. Dashboards should be organized and easy to follow. Data visualizations should, in turn, provide support to dashboards and cause readers to ask questions about why things are performing in a certain way, not make them question what they are even looking at in the first place.

In order to avoid gluttony, we suggest following The Red Book of Dashboard Design. This comprehensive guide urges dashboard designers to to capture the readers’ attention with full-width KPIs presiding over the top of the primary dashboard tab. These strategic KPIs would then be broken down by tables and charts, appearing lower in the dashboard. Lower priority KPIs should then be organized into subsequent tabs, with supporting graphs and tables.

Greed: So Vain.

Greed is a strong, selfish desire. When we design our reports it is vital that we do not let greed get the best of us by focusing solely on our own objectives, and not on those of others in the organization. This sin is often committed when we employ dashboards designed to meet our own needs but with little flexibility for others to cater to theirs. Get past greediness with customized dashboards! If each decision maker is able to view the metrics that speak directly to them, they are able to better focus on their needs, without rudely having the objectives of others imposed on them… Not only that, but by giving them the space to work with their own data set they may even set goals and alerts to help them to take data-based actions.

Sloth: Forgetting something?

Giving into laziness and allowing certain report details to go overlooked, such as visualization labels or color schemes, has stronger repercussions than you may think. Visualizations enrich and  strengthen reports, so please don’t think that spending a few extra minutes carefully considering the layout and design of your report will go unnoticed. Quite the contrary, clearer reports lead to faster insight discovery.

Not only is properly creating your reports an issue, but also, the aftermath of what you do with them once they’ve been delivered. Are you too lazy to actually open them? Does this lead you to still make decisions based on pure intuition? Unfortunately, after spending precious time building reports, some of them are tossed aside. It’s not enough to just make a report, you must also act on it. Use them for what they are there for: to provide a roadmap of where we’ve been, and to explore the possibilities of where we might like to go next.

Wrath: Fighting over how to make decisions.

Self-destructive organizational warfare around decision-making can be avoided when companies come to adopt a unified data-driven culture. The key to successfully avoiding these irritable office feuds is to make a full culture shift to goal-driven optimization. Easier said than done, but by practicing certain decision-making methodologies such as Digital Insight Management, organizations may come to find it is much more productive (and peaceful) to work as a team when information plays a starring role in the decision-making process.

Envy: Anything you can do, I can do better.

doubting between good and evilEnvy evokes an insatiable desire which may be destructive as we aspire to emulate, or surpass, those we are jealous of. Envious desires may lead analysts to do things they shouldn’t be proud of, such as creating misleading visualizations to include in their reports to try to outperform colleagues. We’ve all heard of tampering with data, but rather than choosing to lie, some tricksters have taken it upon themselves to use the data they have but to stretch the truth by creating skewed visualizations. This often presents information in such a way as to convince the reader what they’re seeing is exactly what they want.

The problem? Besides being morally corrupt, your actions will eventually catch up to you so expect some uncomfortable conversations with your higher ups. At the end of the day, the outcomes remain the same. Without a proper representation, no one will be able to truly interpret the data and make a plan to improve performance.

Pride: Refusal to accept the numbers.

We’ve all done it, refused to accept reality. There have been numerous conversations revolving around when to trust data and when to trust human instinct – and all too often these doubts are discussed simply because we are not proud enough to accept the truth. But instinct can be just as biased as data. Unfortunately, our natural instincts may be biased, hopeful, or even pessimistic, and this is why we have performance dashboards and reports to help us support or, perhaps, surprise our prior notions. Don’t let pride get in the way of accepting information that in the end is only there to help guide you to find the insights capable of making an impact. That is- AFTER you had done data audits and ensured the quality of your data, put pride aside in the search for truth.

Guilty of a sin, or two?

There’s no use denying it… However, the advantage of reporting is that we always get an opportunity to learn and grow professionally. By putting aside our pride, lust, or whatever “data delivery sin” we often commit, we have the chance to take advantage of our marketing opportunities, figure out what areas are truly working, and improve the ones that are not.

Do you find yourself guilty of any of the sins listed above? What do you do to overcome these struggles and optimize your data delivery experience?


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Holly McKendry

Sweetspot Marketing Director. Wakeboarder & travel enthusiast. Communication Studies graduate of Texas State University, San Marcos.

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