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Data Driven Crisis Management: Agile Decision Making

This is part 6 of a 6 part series on Data Driven Crisis Management.

During a crisis, time is very expensive. While your revenue is likely down significantly, your costs are likely the same as they were before the crisis started which means you are burning more capital every day the crisis persists. Cutting costs quickly can be hard, so it’s critical to make the most of every single hour of every day to get the most from your business until there is a recovery. 

The time that elapses between new information, decision making, and action is important because that determines how quickly you can move. If the time between new information and action is very short, your decision making is agile and you can react quickly to changes and opportunities. If it takes you a long time to take action from new information, you are burning more capital than necessary and likely missing out on opportunities. 

How do you measure your decision making timelines? How do you decide if your decision making is agile? Since this is probably not something you were focused on before the crisis, here is a three-step process to get started:


Start measuring your decision making timelines. Starting with every new piece of information, begin tracking the time it takes to go from information to action. This can be as simple as watching the timestamps on emails (if you are notified by email of new information) or as sophisticated as tracking the progress of tickets in Salesforce, et al. 


  1. Understand how fast you can realistically move. With your data in hand, it’s important to understand what your ideal time to action will be. If you move too quickly you will make too many mistakes, but if you are too slow you will miss opportunities. This ideal timeline may or may not be based on how long it takes you today, as crisis management often requires you to use radically different decision-making frameworks. 
  2. Monitor time to decision. Once you are measuring your time to decision, and have a target speed, you can monitor your performance. While this is different than core business performance metrics (like revenue, new customers, etc), during a crisis the time to decision is often a leading indicator of how quickly the business will recover. As a result, it is often a good idea to add it to your list of Key Performance Indicators, at least until the crisis subsides. 

Remember that time to action is NOT the same as the time to CORRECT action. It is possible that you will make mistakes in your pursuit of faster decision making, and the balance of speed to accuracy is a decision you will need to make for your team. 

One helpful way to visualize decision-making time is a Burndown Chart which tracks how quickly you are resolving tasks over time. An example Burndown Chart is below:

Example burn down chart, via Wikipedia.

The x-axis is time and the y-axis are tasks. If you define new information as a task, the burndown chart can help you understand how long you are taking to resolve them. You’ll notice there is also an “Ideal” line on the chart, which represents how quickly you’d like to be handling tasks. This works for decisions as well, based on your decision about realistic time to action. This visualization is available in most ticketing systems (like Zendesk, Salesforce, etc) so if you use a platform like that to handle your crisis decision making you can use it easily. 

Whatever you use to measure your time to make a decision, the critical thing is to measure and ensure it’s as fast as you need it to be. If the competition has a shorter time to act, they will have a strong competitive advantage when new information becomes available to everyone in the market. Considering how expensive it is to make mistakes or miss opportunities during a crisis, it’s critical that you don’t give the competition that advantage. 


A crisis is a trying time, and your first instinct might be to abandon data and rely on your intuition for important decisions. However, that strategy is similar to running through a forest in the dark as it’s only a matter of time before you run into something! You need to harness data in your crisis management and decision making, starting with identifying what data you can trust all the way through to finding early indications of recovery. 

Crisis management is not easy, but for every crisis, there is a recovery.  As long as you focus on a logical, data-driven, approach you can not only survive a crisis, you can thrive.

Quote of the Day:   “Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all.” – Mikhail Chigorin

The Data Driven Crisis Management series