Struggling to Make Decisions Based on Data? Here’s What You Need to Do

Tech leaders share their top tips for embracing a data-first mindset in the decision-making process.

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Dec. 29, 2023
Struggling to Make Decisions Based on Data? Here’s What You Need to Do
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At another company, Kaytlyn Sheffler might have grumbled at being told to work on “increasing user engagement.” Such a broad goal could rightfully have induced an eye roll as the product manager prepared for the messy task of gathering the data her team needed to better understand the challenge before them. In the end, there was no grumbling or eye-rolling as Sheffler works at Sittercity, which places a premium on data.

The company maintains a wide variety of dashboards, which Sheffler and her team, alongside the analytics team, consulted to identify drop-offs in user engagement. As Sheffler continued to drill deeper into the data, opportunities to increase user engagement became clearer.

“Leveraging data at each decision step helped our team stay focused in the discovery process and prioritize a solution with the highest impact,” said Sheffler.

Of course, data isn’t magic, and to be able to use it throughout the decision-making process requires an upfront investment in data hygiene and accessibility. Sheffler and three other tech leaders spoke with Built In about the work required to integrate data into the decision-making process and how being able to rely on facts when making decisions benefits not just companies but also teams.

 

Sam Myers
Director, Data Analytics • Leaf Home

Leaf Home is a technology-driven provider of innovative home solutions, offering homeowners safety, enjoyment, convenience and peace of mind.

 

How do you embrace a data-first mindset during the decision-making process?

When adopting a data-driven approach to decision-making, the foundation for success lies in establishing clean, reliable data. Common metrics across an organization can have varying definitions that evolve over time. Without a single source of truth, making informed judgments and decisions becomes a challenge.  

An example of this challenge is the metric known as “set rate,” which tracks the number of appointments secured with customers who have expressed interest in our products or services and desire a home visit for an estimate. Despite its seemingly straightforward nature, different reports revealed various methods for calculating this metric. Without uniformity, understanding a core key performance indicator becomes a daunting task. 

To address this issue, we made it a priority to establish universally agreed upon, accurate and clean definitions for KPIs in collaboration with executive teams and individual business units. Once the new datasets were finalized, they became the definitive source of truth.

 

“When adopting a data-driven approach to decision making, the foundation for success lies in establishing clean, reliable data.”

 

Why is it important for you to rely on facts when making major decisions for your team and or the company?

Facts serve as the foundation of decisions that can be defended and explained, fostering confidence in the face of critical choices. Business decisions have far-reaching consequences, and without a foundation of facts and reliable data, businesses risk scrutiny and questions about their decision-making processes. 

Trust within organizations hinges on data-driven decisions. When communication and messaging about a decision leverage data, stakeholders gain a clearer understanding of what led to the decision. This transparency and trust facilitate easier alignment and support. By basing decisions on data rather than gut instincts, leadership demonstrates a commitment to what is best for the business, fostering trust and confidence.

 

How do you share the data you use with the company to maintain transparency?

Building a culture of data transparency is a team effort that necessitates continuous improvement, open dialogue and the active involvement of all stakeholders. My role includes partnering with our transformation team to define the business KPIs relevant to our operations, ensuring they become the single source of truth for the company. IT facilitates this process by providing data pipelines that enable teams to access data in readily available locations. This includes initiatives like the implementation of a self-service data platform, which empowers the business with data that can be trusted.

Maintaining robust data governance and implementing a dedicated data governance platform empowers our company to scale effectively while ensuring consistent data definitions and interpretations throughout the organization. By embracing data transparency as a team, we can unlock new opportunities, drive innovation and achieve our shared goals.

 

 

Kaytlyn Sheffler
Product Manager • Sittercity

Sittercity connects parents with local babysitters and nannies as well as pet sitters and elderly care workers.

 

How do you embrace a data-first mindset during the decision-making process?

I find it critical to lead at the start of a project with data and to clarify how as a team we will incorporate it into each decision point as work progresses. Data can strengthen team alignment, create a shared language for prioritization and build confidence that the team is moving in the right direction.

Our team recently focused on a key business problem to increase user engagement. To clarify this broad goal, our product team paired with analytics for a brainstorming session using an opportunity solution tree framework. Through a collective review of data dashboards, we anchored on top levers to engagement as opportunities and ideated on solutions. 

After the session, our next decision was to prioritize one specific opportunity and a few limited solutions to move forward with. I looked more deeply into the data, applying user segmentation and additional filters to further clarify a proposal focused on reducing a significant drop-off point in our onboarding funnel. 

 

Why is it important for you to rely on facts when making major decisions for your team and or the company?

Teams and companies have limited resources, which is why it’s critical to leverage data to determine clear focus areas that will drive the business forward. Fostering a team culture that relies on facts and data supports a shared understanding of the current state of business and the opportunities to deliver more customer and business value.

Prioritizing data in decision-making mitigates challenges arising from stakeholders who may have strongly held opinions or request immediate prioritization of certain work. By reorienting on the data and known facts, it’s easier to find common ground and justify prioritization of initiatives with higher reach and impact.

 

“Prioritizing data in decision making mitigates challenges arising from stakeholders who may have strongly held opinions or request immediate prioritization of certain work.”

 

Being data-centric promotes adaptability among teams and can also help mitigate risks for projects by more clearly assessing the challenges and potential for success. Committing to data ensures teams make informed decisions, contributing to more successful projects.

 

How do you share the data you use with the rest of your team and the company to maintain transparency?

Throughout the project lifecycle, it’s important to be transparent about the data used in decisions and to make it easily accessible to team members. Within presentations or product briefs, I’ll add direct links to data dashboards. This allows anyone to gain context and background, ask questions about the framing and filters involved and challenge any assumptions.

Standardized meetings and presentation cadences are extremely helpful in cultivating a data-centric organization. We have a biweekly product review where we cover any upcoming work and associated success metrics backed with current and projected data for the initiative. We also foster a culture of continuous improvement by monitoring data post-release of new features to inform what enhancements we might prioritize next. 

To ensure transparency across the organization, our product teams present in our company all-hands meeting once a month, highlighting progress toward company objectives and key results, and key changes in product KPIs. These practices cultivate an environment where data becomes a shared resource every team member can leverage.

 

 

Scott Henderson
VP of Central Technology • SciPlay

SciPlay develops digital video games, providing entertaining free-to-play casual and social games to millions.

 

How do you embrace a data-first mindset during the decision-making process?

Embracing a data-first mindset is ingrained in our decision-making process and is an integral part of our DNA. We rely on data comprehensively, employing it on a 24/7 basis to ensure that our decision-making is not only player-centric but also optimized for operational efficiency. One concrete example of our data-first approach is evident in our proprietary SciPlay Engine. 

Over the years, we have developed this system that systematically gathers and analyzes player behavior data, preferences and engagement patterns. By leveraging this information, we gain valuable insights into what aspects of our games resonate most with our audience. When a player logs into one of our games, we dynamically craft their experience based on what we know about them: the features they see, the specials presented and a customized UI, for example. 

Data allows us to tailor and enhance gameplay experiences and stay aligned with the evolving preferences of our players. Additionally, on the operational front, we use data-driven insights to fine-tune our performance, identifying and promptly addressing any bottlenecks or challenges. 

 

Why is it important for you to rely on facts when making major decisions for your team and or the company?

SciPlay’s business primarily follows an in-app purchase game model, allowing players to engage with our games without any upfront cost. For enhanced experiences, players do have the option to make in-app purchases. Our success hinges on our deep understanding of player preferences, which we derive from data analysis. By continually monitoring how player preferences evolve over time, we ensure our ability to consistently deliver top-tier content. With this fundamental understanding, we can sustain our player-first commitment to offering the best gaming experience.

 

“Our success hinges on our deep understanding of player preferences, which we derive from data analysis.”

 

How do you share the data you use with the rest of the company to maintain transparency?

Ensuring transparency in our data-driven decision-making process is a core element of our collaborative approach. We have regular and frequent team meetings specifically designed for sharing key insights derived from our data analyses. These sessions serve as a platform for our teams to discuss their findings, successes and challenges. This collaborative environment enables us to collectively learn from each other, fostering a culture where we level up and get results. 

Our commitment to transparency is also visually evident. Whether it’s in a physical office, conference room or during vidcons, large visualizations of relevant data take center stage. We believe in communicating both verbally and visually to promote a shared understanding among team members. This emphasis on transparency strengthens communication and cultivates a culture where data is not just a tool for analysis but a shared resource that informs and empowers all members of SciPlay.

 

 

Gregory Hunt
Staff Engineer • Particle Health

Particle Health’s API makes it easier for companies in the healthcare industry to access and analyze medical data.

 

How do you embrace a data-first mindset during the decision-making process?

It is crucial to prioritize data as a key factor in all stages of decision-making, which includes prioritizing data analysis and integrating it into every step of the process. Key areas for me include ensuring data accessibility, fostering data literacy, employing a systematic analytical approach, balancing data with experience and adapting based on new insights. 

One recent example is where we extract relevant data elements from the complex, denormalized unstructured format. By converting the data into a simplified, tabular format, it is easier to consume and analyze. This allows customers to onboard and start driving value faster.

 

Why is it important for you to rely on facts when making major decisions for your team and or the company?

When it comes to steering my team in the right direction, the key is anchoring decisions in facts. It’s like having a compass that points us toward clear, logical choices and cuts through personal biases and assumptions. Think of it as diving into a lake of accurate data. We have a deeper understanding of the situation, leading to choices that are more likely to hit their targets. This approach is also great for predicting outcomes and managing risks more effectively. 

Grounding our decisions in facts builds trust and credibility with everyone involved, whether they’re team members, clients or stakeholders. It’s also about consistency: A fact-based approach keeps our decision-making process steady and reliable, which is crucial for long-term strategy. 

In today’s rapidly changing world, adapting swiftly to new developments based on the latest facts can give us a competitive edge. Every decision based on facts is an opportunity for learning and improving. Relying on facts is more than just making wise decisions now. It’s about setting ourselves up for success and growth.

 

How do you share the data you use with the rest of your team and the company to maintain transparency?

On my team, we ensure transparency with data through direct access and detailed, weekly communications. Everyone has access to our central data resources, which are consistently updated with the latest information. This ensures we’re all on the same page and can directly engage with the data relevant to our projects and objectives.

 

“On my team, we ensure transparency with data through direct access and detailed, weekly communications.”

 

By consistently involving the team in understanding and analyzing the data, we not only keep everyone informed but also actively cultivate a culture of collaborative analysis and shared responsibility in our decision-making processes.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

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