Forecasting, Faith And Failure

Forecasting, Faith And Failure

In every business it is essential to master the art of forecasting, to guess or gamble on the future in an attempt to plan and prepare for what we think might happen. Some businesses believe that every plan must come to fruition and failure to do so requires careful examination in order to do better next time until they perfect the process. With every plan we take a leap of faith that we will stick the landing and we use metrics to guide our hand. It is said that you cannot manage what you do not measure but the question that should be asked is if you can measure and manage then does this equal success? Our recent election is a great example of a scenario where preparation, planning, measuring and management both, does and does not equal success...a paradox.

It is unfortunate but the reality is that we often cause our own failures by cutting costs, simplifying processes, restructuring, measuring the wrong metrics and not ensuring data integrity. It is often the case that we do not understand where we get our data from, the inaccuracies inherent in our data or we do not verify the believed accuracy of our data. The reality is that if we make decisions based on this data and it is inaccurate then we are likely making bad decisions which can cause failure/s. To say that data alone is a source of failure would be remiss as the attitudes or culture in your workplace can also impact on whether management or execution of decisions aligns with what the data demands. It should also be noted that if you have data but only acknowledge that data that suits your narrative then you are doing yourself a disservice when it comes to planning and future success. We place significant trust / faith in data these days and it can be what stands between gambling, planning, success and failure...perhaps even the definition of a miracle.

This isn't to say that metrics cannot be useful even if inaccurate but the validity of our data is only one challenge, selection of appropriate measures is equally important. If you communicate metrics to your staff that your business deems important this can also have undesirable outcomes by communicating the wrong information to your staff which is just as problematic as inaccurate data. For example lets say that you are in a business that has assets or fleets you maintain and you communicate that availability (time equipment is able to operate) is a key metric then this can potentially convey that your focus is on equipment running. This is a reasonable choice for a metric but potentially this conveys to your staff that you value running time over sustainable fixes and reliability which could have your staff focusing on short term fixes (aka band aid fixes) rather than resolving the issues and keeping your equipment running more sustainably long term. By changing your metric to mean / average time between failures you now tell your staff that you'd like your equipment to be available more often and have less failures thus communicating that reliability is also important. This should form part of your audit process to establish if your metrics communicate the correct business values and whether your staff culture is aligning with the objectives of your business.

No matter what you do, data is used to support the probability of success, failure, an event or even the lack of an event. When time is a factor in your data and you are seeking to forecast, plan or estimate then you will find faith and accuracy. The accuracy of your data is impacted by many things but without verification or understanding, your trust in your data is questionable. So remember if you measure to manage that you must also trust your data to have faith that you will succeed or fail as applies to your situation. Data collection and accuracy is rarely assessed upon a failure or the focus is on blame rather than improvement when reviewing a failure. So remember that data for the sake of data is not worth much if you can't trust it, it doesn't align with your business and you are checking whether the data is what is causing you to fail.

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Brent Webster
Technical Services Manager

Bunbury, WA

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Outbound Links:

  1. Brandstock - The 3 Stages Of Data Verification And Auditing In Intellectual Property Services

  2. Sydney Morning Herald - Losing Our Way: How The Cult Of The KPI Has Damaged Our Moral Compass

  3. ABC News - Election 2019: How The Polls Got It So Wrong In Predicting A Labor Victory

  4. ABC News - Election 2016: The Dumb Way We Measure Economic Management

  5. Australian Institute Of Grants Management - A Better Measure Of Value: The Universal Commons