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Data doea not equal meaning

Data does not equal meaningEarlier this week, I read a blog by Paul Krugman on the inaugural of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website (or maybe the re-birthing of the site). The main point of the blog is that you can’t throw up the data and say “the data speaks for itself”. You need to do some analysis and indicate what the data portends.

The same goes when finance or accounting distribute reports. Most of the time we just send them. But this is the perfect opportunity to supply meaning to the report that you are distributing. You won’t often find anything deep but you can at least try to connect the dots.

What have the trends been?

Are there any troubling areas?

When you trend out to the future, does anything pop up?

Anything in particular you would like the project manager or business unit manager to know?

I found out that managers desire such information when I left my last position. At least two mentioned that I provided valued added analysis. These comments started a bell ringing in my head: maybe not everybody takes the extra step to see what the data means. If you are not doing that, you are missing the fun part! It’s hard but it is way more fun than just shipping out those reports.

So What Do You Do?

First, after you have downloaded your data, make sure you are not sending out raw data as reports. Arrange it in a logical format so that it is legible rather than just a spreadsheet of numbers.

Second, most managers may want or need to use those numbers in another report, so don’t supply the information as a PDF file. I once worked for a company where the Excel download version was so raw and ugly that most financial types used the PDF version which was a pretty picture of what they saw on the screen. That was nice but…the managers couldn’t use the data very easily. They had to manually input the data into their own spreadsheets. So try to figure out how to arrange the raw data. Pivot table is one great method of doing it.

Third, go through the questions I posed earlier. Even ask yourself additional questions that I have not thought of. Put yourself in the manager’s shoes to divine what he is going to need.

Fourth, if your company offers meetings open to everyone, go to them! You will learn about what occupies your team mates and you will learn their lingo. Also, you will be putting your face out there. Yes, you are very busy, but not so busy that you can’t get out and learn from your colleagues. These meetings will help you on point number three.

Fifth, have fun with it!

If you are interested, the link to Paul Krugman’s full blog is here:


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