“I went to a great workshop on data strategy run by this post’s author, Taylor Ourada of Ourete LLC and asked her if she’d be willing to contribute an article. Think Design focuses on your organization’s data strategy as part of our discovery process, and here’s Taylor’s take on why you have to get focused on what data is relevant and necessary for you to capture.” – Ray Shah, founder, Think Design

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It is now a data-driven world, and, whether you know it or not, you are making decisions every day about what data you collect and what data you let slip away. By identifying the most fundamental questions facing your business, you can pinpoint and track the right data points efficiently.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the word data? For some, it’s the binary string 0101010. For others, it’s the image of sales charts showing increasing profits over time. The word has become so associated with information stored in a computer that we forget data exists all around us, even when it’s not captured by a sensor or stored on a computer. Datum, in its most basic sense, refers to a singular piece of information, and it can be any piece of information.

Look around you; if you’re in a place of business, like a coffee shop, there is extremely valuable information everywhere: the genre of music playing, the length of time customers are sitting, the changing smell as bakery items are ready, the internal temperature fluctuating each time the door opens. These are just a few of the pieces of data that, left uncaptured, slip into the abyss, never to be understood or evaluated. Recognizing the difference between captured and uncaptured data is transformative, enabling organizations to level up and start unlocking real value.

In the last 2 years, we have captured more data than in the entire history of humankind. But that pales in comparison to the amount of uncaptured data that slipped away in the same period. We will never be able to capture every piece of data out there, but, with the evolution of technology, your organization has a unique opportunity – a responsibility, even – to be intentional about the data you are collecting, storing, and analyzing.

Asking questions that matter and pivoting based on the answers will determine an organization’s ability to thrive in the digital age. Once the questions are defined and prioritized, a data strategy helps outline methodological steps and creative ways to capture, store, and analyze required data. This is an information evolution from “What can the data I have tell me?” to “What data do I need to answer this critical question or solve this problem?”

Some of the most valuable customer metrics – such as sentiment or personality – are now able to be measured through natural language processing (NLP). We are no longer constrained to basic reports that track easy to capture metrics like sales and clicks. There is an opportunity to dig into the emotional side of your brand by asking questions that truly seek to understand the customers you’re serving.

Questions that matter will lead to real action on your organization’s part. You may have a multitude of interesting questions, but you should prioritize those impacting spheres of influence currently in scope. There are also aspects of humility and bravery when it comes to analyzing the responses to those questions that matter. The answer may lead to a necessary product change never envisaged in your initial hypothesis.

There’s always a point when reviewing insights where you’ll look at your team and have to decide – do we listen to these findings or stick with our original design? I encourage you to always lean in and listen, to understand from your customers, members, or other team members why they think certain patterns are emerging. Go beyond the surface and set aside any assumptions you may have. It’s human nature to have a moment of resistance to change as it often means more time and energy is required. What separates good from great organizations is the ability to move past that resistance and figure out a way to fully integrate insights.

Your questions that matter will likely shift over time – and that’s great – it means your organization is growing and changing. The most important step you can take today is integrating an iterative and collaborative question creation process into your organization’s culture.

Share in the comments how you’re working to unlock the value of your organization’s data through questions that matter.