What is Data Operations and why should I care?

How do you define the world of Data Operations or more broadly, the importance of data in a revenue organization?

Most people start by looking at the data points itself (e.g. data quality), then the coordination of data between teams (e.g. data compliance and governance) and don’t always mention what I think is a key element: the motion created by people in different departments using shared data to drive shared goals.

Data operations is the intersection of these different actions and the role of activating, aligning, and shaping this data to facilitate the rest of the organization’s work. Most of the time it’s only noticed when it’s not working.

Here’s a sample visual of how data operations relates to the rest of the business:

You Need Data To Run Your Business

You need to identify key data points to run your business. These markers are going to be different in each business, but they need to provide a North Star that everyone looks at to see how things are going. Is it 12-month trailing Revenue? Is it the New Customer Count? Is it churn rate? Is it initial signups?

It’s probably going to be some combination of the above that forms the basis of weekly, monthly, and quarterly conversations to see how you’re doing. These ought to be things that can be easily tracked, are relevant to the business, are specific enough to act on, and not too hard to create.

Once you have the “North Star” metrics, each department has sub metrics (inputs) that they track to control the part of the business they influence.

Examples of these include:

  • Sales Development Representatives track new meetings
  • Customer Service reps track happy and sad customers
  • Product teams track shipped features
  • and Salespeople track closed-won deals

Making these inputs work together to tell the story is the reason we align data between systems. If you can’t compare the outputs from one department to another, it’s a bit hard to make sense of how the business is doing.

Activity != Communication

Have you ever seen a situation where one department is hitting metrics and another department wonders what they are doing?

This could be the result of activity without communication.

A good metric measures activity and suggests progress toward a shared goal. A great metric is understood by the whole company because it is either easily matched with a shared goal or is accompanied by continued communication about the achievements of that team.

Activity on its own can look like a rocking chair: measuring energy and movement but not going anywhere in reality.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Traffic Light Theory of Communication

If you’re familiar with this problem, you are likely the person who knows the most about your data and what it means on a microscopic level. You also intuit that your boss knows somewhat less detail about the data, and their boss a bit less.

So how do you make this information relevant? You need to have a shared understanding, something like “this measurement means we’re green, this one means we’re yellow, and this means we’re red” to help the rest of the business orient to the information you know in detail.

Think of this as a A/B testing of your message to other departments within your company. If they don’t understand the importance of things you think are important, they literally can’t speak to you (and you to them) on the same level on business data where you need to collaborate.

If your idea is not simple, make it simpler. It needs to be a 30 second pitch – 1 to 2 sentences that almost anyone in the company will comprehend and then have an idea how to relate what they are doing to the data you’re sharing.

The Company Needs You to be Right … When Asked

Activity + Communication = the potential to be right. Now, which problem are you solving? Hopefully it’s one the company needs you to solve. Urgent and important problems are the ones to focus on here, not just the loudest or the biggest problems. This might mean keeping a list of the “things to solve next” to avoid getting distracted from the things you need to solve right now. By the way, the things you need to solve right now might not be the most interesting. But they are probably the most important.

When you get asked? That’s the time to shine. Take your metrics, your activity, the relevance to the situation, and the demonstration that the effort will make a difference to the company’s bottom line. That’s the recipe for a winning project.

What’s the takeaway? It doesn’t matter if you have a great metric if no one knows what it means or how it will help your company.

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