Randall Bolten Blog

October 28, 2015
A Washington Post article, citing this year’s report on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), reports that from 2013 to 2015, fourth-grade and eighth-grade math scores declined somewhat nationwide, and were stagnant or slightly down in reading. Are we really doing worse, or are we wasting our time with all this testing?

October 19, 2015
A widely cited quote asserts that big data is like teenage sex, because there’s less of it going on than is widely believed, as well as lots of other misinformation about the practice. It’s an apt comment, and I have my own reasons for arguing that big data is like teenage sex.

September 29, 2015
Last week, we looked at a simple, handwritten graph that’s a great example of what graphs and data visualization are really for – to help people get a sense of trends, patterns, and what behavioral consequences might be. Now let’s use that same approach to understand a typical management-by-objective (MBO) bonus plan for line managers and key employees, and improve a poorly-designed system.

September 22, 2015
Well-designed incentive compensation plans – especially sales commission plans – are an incredibly powerful way to motivate great performance. But designing a great plan is both an art and a science, and prone to design mistakes that are expensive and end up not motivating the desired performance. The commonest and most serious error plan designers make is to lay out the rules before deciding just what it is the enterprise is trying to accomplish. You can avoid that mistake with a simple, straightforward graph that I’ve drawn hundreds of times in my career.

September 09, 2015
The model we’ve been looking at – to help make your management reporting software decision – also provides an example of model design to ensure objective and honest analysis. In this post, we talk about why that’s so.

September 01, 2015
What’s the “right” way to decide between different approaches to management financial reporting, such as building your reports in Excel, writing custom code in-house, using the report-writing capabilities of your ERP system, or installing special-purpose planning & budgeting software? They all have their strengths and weaknesses. In this post, I describe a process that will help you make the right decision for your enterprise.

August 20, 2015
A surprisingly interesting Proformative webinar, “Dean & Deluca: Uncompromising Standards in Excel-Based Reporting,” describes how Dean & Deluca – an upscale grocery store chain and food purveyor with a high-end ERP product as its accounting system – generates financial statements and other management reports using an Excel application. That runs counter to much current thinking – some would call it a primitive approach – but perhaps we should look at this question differently.

August 03, 2015
An interesting headline on the front page of a recent USA Today: “Drastic drop in Medicare deaths, costs.” The story cites a JAMA article reporting significant drops from 1999 to 2103 in death rates, hospitalization rates, and cost-per-patient among Medicare patients. That great news! Now, from that headline, you might infer that Medicare had something to do with the improvements, but should you really?

June 06, 2015
We look at the fun subject of marital infidelity, and how it’s affected by the husband’s and the wife’s relative income. How a recent study was reported illustrates how numbers – and especially graphs – can be presented to reflect a certain point of view or agenda, often in subtle ways.

May 19, 2015
A “Washington Post” story has the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) trying to rebut a number of misconceptions about federal government employment practices, most notably the belief that it’s impossible to fire a federal employee. Their effort is a great example of how misleading raw numbers can be, and how the misuse or simply the absence of metrics can rob the raw numbers of meaning and context.

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