Whether you are the designated IT person managing data at your organisation or you have inherited this IT function, data management can be overwhelming with different systems requiring ongoing maintenance and attention in order to function properly.
The main challenge is that too often data management is equated to data collection, however they are not synonymous. Although collecting data is a necessary step in data management, data collection itself doesn’t add value to your organisation. You need to be able to use this data in a strategic way so that you can justify the time spent on collecting and entering the data.
It is also important to recognise that data management requires an investment of time. So, if you want your organisation’s data management systems to be effective, useful, and helpful, you need to devote monthly (at a minimum) or daily (at a maximum) time to it.
This blog outlines 3 basic data management questions you should ask each month (at a minimum) to help maximise your organisation’s data. These questions are associated with collecting relevant data, maintaining clean and healthy data, and using data intentionally. All three elements are required to manage data effectively and should be inputted into a data management matrix, like the one below to make data management less overwhelming.
1. What data matters to our organisation?
It’s no point collecting data for the sake of collecting data unless it is measuring progress toward your goals. So you need to ask “What data really matters?” and simplify your data management by collecting data that is actually useful to your organisation.
You can do this by completing these steps monthly:
- List five organisational goals, one in each row beneath the “Goal” column header of the data management matrix (you can add more goals to your matrix if needed). Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based).
- If each goal is specific and measureable, you should be able to identify a single metric for each goal in the second column, or a way to measure real-time performance against your goal.
- Based on the metrics required to measure performance toward each goal, define the specific data required to produce the metric in the third column. Only include the data required for the metric.
Update your matrix each month by refocusing and prioritising your organisation’s relevant data. If a goal changes, update that row to match the new data collection requirements.
2. Is our data clean and accurate?
Now that you’ve determined the data that needs to be tracked each month, you need to ensure the health of that data by maintaining clean and accurate data. This is important because relevant data is being used to measure performance and help make strategic decisions and plans.
You can maintain accurate data by implementing monthly data quality controls as a standard data management practice, as follows:
- Identify potential causes of poor data quality or data entry errors in each goal area. List these causes in column four of the data management matrix. You will use this list as “what to look for items” each month as you conduct your data quality checks.
- Develop a monthly procedure to review data quality. Using your responses in column four as a starting point, develop data quality checks like a “created last month” or “last modified last month” reports to search your data for inaccuracies. Plan to spend at least two to three hours per month checking data quality. Add your data quality check process in column five of the matrix.
- Conduct data quality checks once per month. Make corrections if inaccurate data is found and create a list of actions you can take to improve data quality next month. Add the improvement focus for next month in column six and update this column each month based on the new data quality focus (if it changes).
Creating a systematic process to review data quality will improve the outcome of the third data management question below.
3. Are we improving organizational performance?
You’ve identified, collected, and cleaned the data relevant to your goals. Now it is time to use the data in an intentional way to improve organisational performance and inform strategic plans and decisions.
So to help your organisation be “smarter”, you need to look at your data on a consistent basis by conducting the following three steps once per month to start:
- Define and run reports that display your relevant data. These reports should provide the information to define your organisation’s defined metrics. Add the report name and any important details on how to run the report in column seven of the matrix.
- Answer the following two questions by comparing the metrics from your data to your expected goals. Are we making progress? How do we know we’re making progress? Write the outcome of these two questions in the eighth column.
- List one thing you can do in the next month to improve performance in each goal area. Data is only useful if it is actionable. Use data to inform next steps so you can make incremental gains. Add the action item to column nine in the matrix. This additional column guides your strategic intent toward improvement.
Answer all three questions each month and update your data management matrix to keep your data management practices on-track.