Embracing Number Crunching

Great piece in this morning’s USAToday on how NFL teams are building analytics departments to take advantage of all the data they get.

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This isn’t about their digital properties either. Instead, they are used in the draft (what better way to compare hundreds of college kids than with test results?), game-management (play-calling tendencies, personnel match-ups, etc.), and in managing their rosters – the salary cap, free agent players, etc. What does this have to do with your business?

If you saw Moneyball, you probably recall the reluctance the scouts had in accepting the data being used to analyze players.  There’s a tendency in all businesses, particularly among those of us who have decades of experience, to believe our own impressions more often than we believe the impartial numbers that might be available.  An NFL coach might think that a running back can’t block, but when the numbers show that the missed block only come on plays where the  safety blitzes, the right answer isn’t a better blocker – it’s to get the tackle to give the running back blocking help when they see a blitz.

Your business isn’t that different.  You get reams of data on an hourly basis that explain what is or isn’t working.  It’s overwhelming  and because it is the data is often ignored (“I can’t react to everything every minute of the day”).  As I’ve said to clients, it’s not so much what’s happening in the moment but the trend over a bunch of moments that’s important. Ignoring those trends can be fatal, especially if they’re being subordinated to the often blurry vision each manager has.

That said, I’m among the first to say that numbers don’t show everything.  Leadership on the field, for example, isn’t really quantifiable (no numbers available from what goes on in the huddle, folks).   Still, confirming one’s own impressions against impartial measures from ongoing business activities is an important check and balance.

If you’re running a business and you’re not involved in analytics of some sort, you’re running that business blindfolded.  If you’re don’t have full-time people supporting your data efforts, there are outside folks like me who can help.  As the NFL shows, even the top dogs need to learn a few new tricks.

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