When our creative group implemented an online project management tool and tracking system, I wasn't totally prepared for how much the data it produced was going to affect not only my management style but our entire studio culture as well. I went from relying on my gut feelings and experience to being told by a software program that my resources were not being fully utilized. I couldn't believe my eyes, right there in black and white, every single one of us were assigned a "target," and if someone (or multiple people) wasn't hitting it, I would likely be asked to reduce staff hours in order to meet utilization goals.

It quickly became obvious to me as we started collecting data, there were many other factors that needed to be taken into consideration before acting on the data. I realized the data shouldn't be taking the decision-making responsibility away from me; it should be making me better at it. Similar to when I'm using WAZE (my GPS app), the data it collects from its users is influencing its output to help guide me, but ultimately I am still the driver. Thanks to the data I have additional information with which to assess what I want to do next, but I can apply my own experience to that information and choose accordingly--even if that means overruling what my GPS recommends.

Data-driven decisions are no longer just for business analysts or a select few in our companies. Leaders and managers in every business are engaged in utilizing this increasing volume of captured information called data. It even impacts our individual contributors as we create benchmarks to monitor and measure their performance. This makes using data in smart and responsible ways a critical practice for our teams.

I'm sure you're wondering if the utilization data made my team more accountable. Absolutely and data driven decision-making is now a permanent part of our team's culture. Our individual contributors have been educated on how their roles contribute to our studio goals and how important it is for them to enter clean data. Also, over time the data dust has settled and my managers have learned to read and analyze the data in ways that has helped them to make more effective decisions on distribution of work, the hiring of talent, and resource assignments.

Data has also given us needed confirmation on whether a strategy or tactic we've implemented within our group is working or not working. In some cases data has shown certain job types or technologies may not be the right direction or investment for our group. With this data we've learned to ask questions and use our instincts and experience to question "why" instead of just taking the results at face value and defaulting to determining that a strategy or tactic is not working.

While we've used it to make objective decisions, we've been careful not to underestimate the fact that data has an emotional aspect to it too. Drawing from our experience, I recommend that you be sensitive when communicating data-driven findings to your team. Without context, communicating raw data can negatively impact morale and productivity.

Data is not going away, and, in fact, it is transforming how we do business every day. But even with access to increasingly sophisticated data, decision making should not mean putting everything on auto-pilot and relying on data alone. Instead we should be using it to support our decision-making process by allowing us to move faster and become more agile, helping us to outrun our competitors by making smarter decisions. Striking a balance between our expertise and understanding of information and the data is key. So although posed as a question, punctuation mark and all, it really is a modern day, in-your-face all-around type of managing, in three simple words..."Who's your data?"

What about you? Have you encountered challenges to balancing data-driven decisions versus human instinct and experience? Please share your experiences and thoughts.