Before we get started on how to use data to inform decision making, we’ll walk through some context and definitions on why we use data on VA.gov in the first place.

Data in Government: What & Why

What is data-informed decision making & why use it for VA.gov services?

We use data-informed product management to help measure what matters. In addition to user research and ideation, data tells us if we have been successful and helps verify what is or isn’t working with our products and services. It helps us test our hypotheses, inform product management about what has happened, and guide decisions on what should happen.

Definitions:

  • Data-informed means we have enough data available to understand our product’s health and performance and make educated decisions.

  • Data-driven means we have all of the data that we need in place to make decisions solely based on statistical analyses.

  • We are data-informed as opposed to data-driven because, on VA.gov, we use human-centered design. Instead of using data to tell us exactly what to do, we use it along with other research to inform our decisions.

  • User research is used along with data. Think of data as knowing a little bit about most of the people, and user research as knowing a lot more about a few of those people.

What are KPIs & why are they useful?

We define product KPIs (key performance indicators) as metrics to evaluate the overall success of your product. Each KPI must have a baseline, to know where the metric is currently at, and a target, to have a goal for success. KPIs are used to evaluate the success of your product’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). One OKR can have multiple KPIs, we suggest 1-3.

Why is having product KPIs important to product management on VA.gov?

  1. Provides a bigger, more holistic picture to your product’s success rather than using only a small portion of user feedback from research or comments

  2. Helps inform your product’s roadmap

  3. Helps build team autonomy and accountability

  4. Helps your stakeholders understand your decisions and results

  5. Tracks your product’s health over time to maintain optimal services for veterans

Why do KPIs need to be prioritized?

Too many KPIs can cause confusion and overload, whereas prioritized, focused KPIs provide strategic, meaningful directions.

Having a large number of KPIs is like presenting a long, heavy slide deck when asked to present a brief, focused presentation. It can also be like having too many user stories and tickets at once, and then instead of a focused product, you’re building multiple features for multiple different goals.

What are vanity metrics & how do we stay away from them?

Vanity metrics are metrics that can be exciting to share but are not necessarily actionable. They don’t help you make decisions and aren’t linked to user or business goals.

Using our KPI framework will guide you away from vanity metrics. The VA.gov minimum standard for KPIs is that they are clearly linked back to user and business outcomes.

How does data fit with user research?

Don’t do away with your user research! User research is qualitative data that is also extremely valuable in understanding veterans and their digital needs. User data helps validate your user research, fact-check any anecdotal information, and can inform you if you need to go back and speak to more users. User research and data work together.

What kind of data should I focus on, business or user data?

At VA.gov, we suggest that you use both business and user KPIs and strongly suggest using user KPIs to ensure veteran success. Business KPIs ensure that your product is optimized for the Veteran Affairs offices. User KPIs ensure that your decisions are based on veteran outcomes and help veterans.

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