I am hearing more and more that people don’t know what’s in their data, what to ask of their data, especially “how do I get at what I do know I’m looking for?” Here’s a story:


Sitting at Whole Foods over a casual lunch with a friend whom we’ll call Ted. He logged into an account where he could view details of his business. I copied the data in the web browser, pasted it into Excel and created a pivot table. He gasped!

In 90 seconds Ted had clear and unexpected evidence that a product line was doing far better than he thought. He was ready to call the person in charge of the region to find out what they were doing right.


His company provided the data but it was buried in a few canned reports and a big ugly wall of data. Ted thought the business intelligence was terrible because it doesn’t give useful reports like “product line month-over-month sales.” But all the information was in there. It just wasn’t on a silver platter.

Actually, he had something better than clean reports. He had a glorious data dump:

That big ugly wall of raw information. Transaction after transaction with details of the products, product lines, regions, managers, discount codes, customers, transaction dates, refunds, etc.


Many many people are like Ted. They are good at a skill (baking, customer service, website development, graphic design, teaching, sales, etc.). They work their way up and eventually they’re leading people, and overwhelmed with data on spreadsheets that they don’t understand. I’ve seen the consequences, and you probably have, too.

Inabilities to extract reality from data causes people to quit their jobs, file lawsuits, anticipate drama where there is none, miss rare opportunities, and run a business on SWAGs (scientific wild-ass guesses).

The information is in the data dump. The challenge is in getting at it.


Why do I stress “get at” the data? Often, the analysis isn’t hard. For small businesses and departments within large companies, we don’t need a convo about “big data” or standard deviations.  We don’t always require fancy calculations. We just need some addition, subtraction multiplication and division to answer:

How are sales trending?
How is our productivity?

They’re either going up, down or remaining flat. Period.

For many of us “analysis” doesn’t need to get any more sophisticated than that. That’s all Ted needed and it opened a door to new possibilities and a new focus. To hell with the canned reports! This was a situation where an ability to work with the raw data was far more valuable because we could dig out any slice of reality that we wanted:

  • Manager performance.
  • Region performance.
  • Product, by region, by quarter.
  • Comparison of manager performance by product line.
  • Is there a product that’s returned more than the others?
  • Are there any trends in refunds?
  • Are the discount codes being used?

It’s all there in the data dump and accessible with Excel features like pivot tables, pivot charts, slicers and data models.


  1. Learn to work with data dumps. Maybe even prefer data dumps over canned reports.
  2. Data Management must become part of our vocabulary. We’re all data managers. Even if we just want to keep up with our friends’ birth-dates. That’s not a memorization issue, that’s a data management issue.
  3. Make deliberate effort to learn the business intelligence tools that are available. For most of us, Excel is perfectly fine.
  4. Some managers don’t need to handle data at this level. It’s not a smart use of their time. They need a reliable data-person in their back pocket: someone trained to dig, probe, pick and get at it.

That’s it for today. Remember: we’re all data managers. Get out there and keep this world’s data clean and trustworthy.

 Matrix cascading numbers image credit: Madtomatoe