Work Backwards to Move Forward

We all live the experience of floating adrift on the Pivot Sea, casting our data connections out from Excel hoping to have a hit of the “big one” – now sometimes called ‘big data’ – the table, the query, the info we want that delivers that insight, those nuggets, that we so desperately want. The bits and bites that tell us what is really going on in our business and what decisions we must take next. Unfortunately this rarely happens. When such wants and desires are universal – and rarely achieved – we must ask the question : why? Most of us are following the same dogma when building systems. Start with a business process. Analyze it. Change it. Turn it into software. Run it. Then figure out what to do with the data you’re collecting.

Launch another database. Build another app. Yet we don’t have a clearer picture of what’s going on in our business. How to fix? Quite simply – work backwards.

We are used to working forwards, working linearly, starting with the automation of a business process like financial closing, time reporting, consolidation, etc. Data model to database to operational application to reporting to analytics to insights. Yet often the straight path is not the fastest point from A to B. What does it mean to ‘work backwards’? It means we work back from the point that we usually do last. It means we start at the KPI list, the dashboard, the quarterly or annual report. It means that we don’t start with the data model and then follow by building the operational systems. It means that we start with the business questions – and ask ourselves what matters in our business and how do we measure it? Which points and which data should we look at?

This is going to feel like a shock the first time you do it. Why? Because you’ll have a dashboard with KPIs you can’t measure. They will be blank. Don’t panic. It’s ok to have a dashboard with blanks. It means there are important parts of your business you want to measure yet you don’t know how. For perhaps the first time, you’ll be aware of blind spots and actively think about how you can monitor those activities – or force yourself and your team to consider if they’re so important after all. Perhaps you can measure them in other ways?

Remember : the app - the database - the data you can see is not the business. Don’t let them limit your thinking.

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