Data has a better idea

Right questions, right answers.

By K. Abraham

“To find the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.” An oft-repeated adage, that nevertheless remains pertinent, wherever decisions need to be made.

As lockdown comes to an end, and businesses begin the process of operational reintegration, there will be new realities to contend with; realities that will need to be addressed, especially in the short term, but also into the medium and long term.

I imagine that it will be a priority to get a very clear picture of the market environment: What remains the same, what has changed, and what will we do about it?  While data already in our systems has value, at least as a baseline, it won’t adequately reflect post Covid reality on the ground. There have been significant disruptions to trade demographics over the time of Covid, yet not much has been done to track it, or understand it. Traditional trade quantitative research has stalled, as has funding for snapshot information. This has resulted in a gap, and if planning and action is to succeed, then a good deal more relevant information will be needed.

That, in turn, will require brainstorming and collaboration, with a view to setting up a framework of questions, and a methodology for collecting information that will feed into your planning.

I received an interesting presentation from Steve Johnson at Frontline Research. [For the record, I act as non-exective director on the Frontline Board.]

He had put together a small panel to discuss post lockdown FMCG distribution into the trade.  As part of the procedure, they had spent some time brainstorming what kinds of questions need to be asked, and answered, in order to support distribution activities as soon as possible after reintegration.

Some [not all] of the questions that were proposed include:

  • How many of the outlets we service have survived or been lost due to the lock-down?
  • What is the status of channels – how stable are channels and how will they function post lockdown?
  • What is our presence in trade? What does our distribution look like now, compared to pre-lockdown? What will it look like post lockdown?
  • And so on.

But one notion came up often: That good questions would require good information in order to provide meaningful, actionable answers.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Of course organizations know that they need to plan for it. Of course they know that getting the planning right will depend on the quality of the information that feeds their decision making. Yet, time and again, I have been surprised by how clever people, in great organizations, regularly fail to pause, reflect, discuss, and then properly frame the questions that they should ask, in order to get the answers that they need. In addition, it is not unusual to impair decision making, through poorly planned and executed techniques of collecting the supporting information.

In dealing with post lockdown reintegration, we are going to be reliant on ensuring that questions are relevant, and that the answers resulting from them, are of a very good quality.

To do that, we need to be adamant about ensuring appropriate methodologies for collection of information. Well-planned, both in design and execution.

 So, with a slight tweak to my opening statement:

“The right questions, with the right data collection, give rise to the right answers”.