Take the time to sanity check your work

201512-eraser-file1681273024166Seth Godin wrote a blog post the other day that resonated with me. It’s titled “When things go wrong”.

He lists the steps you should follow when something has gone wrong. Step zero? “Double check the work to make sure that there are no other problems within it.”

I’ve processed a ton of data at work over the past couple of weeks. We have large data sets, and I slice and dice those sets to give different views to different stakeholders.

Sometimes the slicing and dicing is easy. Other times, I have to write new analytical routines to bring different data together.

Before I deliver the reports, I always perform a sanity check. Maybe it’s a simple reconciliation, making sure a column of numbers sums to the expected total. Maybe it’s more elaborate, where I spot check a handful of data intersections, making sure everything is aligned and the analysis is complete.

As I reflect on the sanity checks I perform, I can think of two big takeaways:

  1. As Seth says, I take the time to make sure the analysis is complete. Even if someone is breathing down my neck for the results, I do the best I can to find any mistakes before blindly tossing the results over the fence.
  2. Knowledge of the business helps me immensely. I know with which customers we generate the most revenue, by product line, by geographical area. There are some simple, but powerful, sanity checks I can perform with a basic knowledge of our customer relationships.

These two takeaways are important as you make your transition from a technical career path to a more business-focused path.

You’ll want to make sure you’re appropriately thorough. You won’t have time to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. But check for sanity. Scan for obvious errors. Pressure test your results using common sense.

Also, learn as much about your business as you can. Learn about your customers. Learn about your vendors. Learn about your competitors. Learn about your product and service portfolio.

This knowledge will not only help you error check your work, it’ll help you demonstrate your over-arching competency. It’ll demonstrate your interest in the business. It’ll show that, to you, the business isn’t just a black box.

Don’t worry if the business seems too opaque to make much progress. Keep chipping away at it. Read the news about your industry. Ask people you trust at work.

Don’t rush your work out the door. Yes, timely delivery is important, but not at the expense of mistakes that can damage your personal brand. Take this opportunity to develop your patience and learn more about the business. Your career transition will go more smoothly as a result.

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