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What’s the one key habit used by data-driven managers

Key Habit for Managers?

Answer, Regular Review. That might sound like a dull answer. But I think it’s the correct one. In this article I have two jobs to do. The first is to convince you of the significant benefits of regular review. If I can do that, then the second is much easier. Namely, to provide practical help on how to implement it for yourself.

Before we go much further, what is a regular review? One thing it’s not is massaging data in Excel or a BI tool. That’s data analysis. A review is more thoughtful, personal and powerful. It uses various information sources as well as your gut to reach points of clarity. It then moves into planning, so you know what to actually do.

Can I convince you?

Let me list the reasons why I think you should start a regular review process.

  1. It puts you in a powerful position. A person who carries out regular reviews is always prepared. Prepared for meetings and other situations where there’s pressure to make a decision.
  2. It gives you career security. This type of process won’t be automated away any time soon. Working spreadsheets and doing data manipulation will!
  3. It’s a transferrable skill. Reviewing information and acting is a rare and valuable skill in all industries and jobs.
  4. You can start slow. Neuroscience has shown that by even doing a small amount, you’ll exercise the exact part of the brain that making doing future reviews easier. Small and regular is better than large amounts every now and then.
  5. It costs nothing (aside from some of your time, which you’ll easily get back with interest).

If that hasn’t convinced you, consider a different list. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Weinier and Tim Armstrong. These business leaders and no doubt many others see the value of regular structured thinking time. We may not reach their levels of prowess, but the point is they plan time for review and thinking, so why don’t you?

Barriers to starting

As with many things in life, those with real value and deep benefit are hard to do. Putting in place regular review is no exception. There are a couple of barriers to deal with.

“I don’t have time”

When I sit down with customers, an oft-repeated comment is “it’s great to have the data, but we should be using it more, but things have been really busy.” Let’s keep this bit short. If you have management or supervision in your role, you should be able to find at least 30 minutes once or twice per week. Repeat after me “I do have time”. Book a time and place (more on that below) into your calendar on a repeating basis.

“I don’t know what to do”

This barrier deserves more time and attention. I can’t ever recall having been taught how to do one. It wasn’t until I started to read widely, that I discovered a key to doing them well. That key being to create a process for yourself, follow it and build it.

The process I’m suggesting below is a combination of ideas from reading and listening to the many managers I get to meet with. It’s a way to start and repeat immediately. Keeping the discipline of repeating the process separate from the content of the process helps overcome any procrastination. Just use my initial process and start.

Preparation: Setup your environment

Beyond getting yourself to a place free of distractions, setting up your environment signals to the brain, ‘this is review time’. For me, the best environment is one that is completely free from distractions. Phone, email, the internet and other people are not helpful. I like to go somewhere other than my normal office desk, like the park, café or library. I go at the start of the day and take hard copies of all the information I need. A notebook, pencil and eraser are my tools of choice. But you the tools you’re comfortable with.

Doing the review: Unblock yourself with questions

Once you’re in your chosen place, you may immediately suffer from ‘thinkers block’. All you hear is that old-fashioned dial tone in your head, before your mind finds something else to think about. To help, use open-ended questions. Here’s a list to help you start.

  1. List the problems you have in your manufacturing environment. Quantify them if you have the data.
  2. Describe what things would be like if that problem was fixed. Quantify if possible.
  3. List barriers that exist in getting from where you are now, to that fixed situation. This is the gap.
  4. List the things needed to bridge the gap. Categorise into what you can influence, what others need to do and what you have no idea about.
  5. Create tasks from that list. Make sure they are small and actionable. I don’t think you need to brainstorm. Just start with first things.
  6. Start on one of the key items on the list today and try to make some progress each day.
  7. Review status progress at your next regular review.

Be brutally honest with yourself. If there’s some basic management skill that you struggle with, use this as an opportunity to learn and practise.

The most important thing

Keep the process going. Getting stalled on a project is almost certain to happen at some point. While there’s things you can do, like bringing in other people, there are also times when the wise things to do is stop. Just learn from your efforts and choose something else. But don’t give up the regular review process itself.


Building a regular review process is an incredibly powerful habit to start and build. I hope this content has inspired you and given you some tools to get started.

An alternative approach to targets for 2019. An article I wrote about setting process and habit goals rather than outcome based goals.

Deep Work. A great book about removing distraction and focusing on what really adds value.

Business leaders and thinking time. A blog post with more detail on general thinking time.

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Consider an alternative approach to targets for 2019

Do you consider yourself an effective data-driven manager? To be one, you need to wrestle with targets and goals.