'Data-driven' has long been a buzzword in digital service development, but its everyday application is rarely discussed at a tangible level. Conceptually speaking, data-driven design and software development are easy to grasp: they concern using data and analytics as extensively as possible in service design, UX design and decision-making, and in application or service development.
However, the world rarely works in line with our conceptions. In addition, data-drivenness often fails to materialise in the everyday work of teams, because openness is not genuinely a goal. To be an efficient and agile player, a team should draw its members from across organisational boundaries, so as to include all the expertise and knowledge required to achieve the goal in question. The KPI’s and data used should be shared just as openly with resources in and outside the organisation. Openness is the life-blood of data-drivenness.
I intentionally combine design, analytics and application development into a single whole, because I'm against splitting them into separate phases or silos. Data-drivenness is needed in each and every part of the whole. Design, in particular, is often regarded as involving only intuition-based creativity, which data and facts would simply destroy. In fact, a designer's work becomes easier when intuition and understanding of the customer are backed up by data. The importance of piloting and data collection at the earliest possible stage cannot be exaggerated, because these very quickly reveal a service's true value to consumers and businesses; above all, they enable continuous improvement.
Data is a brutally frank colleague
At Posti, we are perhaps engaged in one of the largest digital transformations on the market. A huge number of projects and development streams, with multiple interdependencies, are underway. Data and openness are playing a key role in the management of this overall transformation. So how are we benefiting from them?
All business indicators and analytics are openly shared between our digital service teams of Posti employees and external consultants. Data is a brutal colleague in the sense that it immediately and honestly tells us whether we are moving in the right direction. Clear business indicators, combined with open analytics via radiators, provide the teams with the transparency and bearings required to make the transition's overall management much easier. We are also using 'feelings indicators' to measure the teams' wellbeing and mood. We encourage them to openly share their successes and lessons learned. An example of this is our growth hacking team, which regularly shares test results, successes and failures with all Posti staff, via the open Posti Next demos.
Caption: Data plays the key role in the growth team's tests
The fastest possible feedback loop is a key cornerstone of data-driven design and development. In design, the importance of customer interviews at the conceptual stage is often emphasised. This is certainly important and helps in understanding the customer's problems and needs. However, quantitative research plays a particularly crucial role when large user numbers are involved – as in our case. For this reason, I would recommend releasing services and new versions as early as possible and often, to initiate a data-driven feedback loop at the earliest possible stage. At Posti, experience has shown that even the highest quality, most rigorous customer interview phase does not provide enough certainty that a service will be usable and give the customer sufficient value. It takes courage to release a service at an early stage, but it pays in the long run, when the service is developed iteratively.
Management does not understand the importance of design
Sound familiar? This is where designers, product owners and team leaders need to take a long look in the mirror. During creative work, it is easy to forget to quantify the user experience against business indicators and goals, but this can work wonders in terms of increasing understanding and raising the importance of design. Not to mention the importance of communicating the results to the entire organisation! Experience shows that openness, diligent measurement, a bold approach to continuous releases and strong communication on the issue are needed when building self-directing, effective teams and good digital services. This is how data-drivenness can be taken from the conceptual level and realised in everyday work.
About the author
Timo, who is Head of Digital Consumer Services at Posti, builds digital solutions to improve the everyday lives of Finns. These solutions are built alongside customers and with an understanding of data. Timo has over 10 years of experience of online business and the design and realisation of digital services.