Mark Twain was fond of the saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” These words are as true now as they were back in the 1890s.
Living in this information age is incredible. There’s no waiting for another team to calculate and then hand over results. You don’t have to guess anymore—you know. This independence grants you both speed and security in your decisions.
With so much data available, and a myriad of ways to analyze it, it’s ridiculously easy to create the exact metrics you need to prove any point. You need no more than Excel to produce a compelling data story.
This, of course, adds amazing value to your project. You can spot trends in an instant and use a chart to make the impact hit home with your executives. Compiling results data and using it to determine the success or failure of testing takes seconds instead of days.
- It’s easy to slip into a pattern of going for flash instead of substance.
I’ve seen plenty of Project Management presentations showing colorful, complex charts with lines and bars…in 3D. Super cool. But I haven’t the slightest idea the point they’re trying to make. Lots of glitter with no substance.
To combat this, constantly remind yourself who you’re presenting to. I don’t know many executives who are impressed with flash. The easier you make it for them to understand the bottom line, the more you really will impress them. So, unless you’re presenting a new advertising campaign, all your design efforts should go into honing how to easily communicate your point.
2. We can make the data say pretty much anything we want.
It’s a matter of perspective. We can make a 1% increase look big or small, depending on the overall volume. Your judgment here is critical. If you’re concerned about a 1% increase, what other data supports the larger impact? Thinking through the supporting data will do more than help present your case: it will help you determine whether the change is as relevant as you initially thought.
Your stakeholders, including your team, aren’t going to know all the data available. They are trusting you to give them the information needed to move forward. What will best support them in their role?
When you are alone at your desk, take some time to play around with the data. Ask yourself questions like these:
- What can I use to show a mitigation is working?
- How can I prove out our success metrics?
- How do I show the risk vs. reward of a decision?
- What are my sponsors’ biggest concerns, and can I validate our solution?
This broad knowledge base will do a few things for you. First, it will give you a feel for the data available, and what’s useful and not. Second, when it’s time to answer a question or make an important point, you’ve already done half the work.
Keep in mind the goal of your project, and always focus your metrics to that end. I don’t mean to show the project is amazingly successful if that’s not really the case. Your job is to cut as clear a path to your goal as you can, and that means being honest about the backslides as well as the surges forward.
Finally, don’t discard a super-cool graphic just because it is flashy. Maybe a 3D chart is exactly right to help your team understand a trend on your project. Just consider the sparkle a bonus, instead of the heart of the communication.