Part 63: Using a Time Series to Visualize Trends – How Small & Mid Sized Companies Grow

Most people look at their most recent week to see how they are doing in whatever aspect of their work that they are interested in. For a sales rep he may have a target of making 100 calls a week, of speaking with 25 decision makers. A Manager may be charged with meeting a profit expectation of $500,000 a month, or any number of other targets or benchmarks.

If that person has achieved their target they might be thinking that they are doing a good job. But is that really what they should be focused on? Let’s use our Manager as our example and they did indeed come in with a profit of $510,000 for the month and exceeded their target. But is that all there is say. If 2 months ago they had a profit of $520,000 and last month they did $515,000; clearly although they are above their benchmark they are trending down and if things don’t improve they may soon be below their target.

It is surprising that many people look at their last period without seeing if things are going up, down or sideways, but without seeing if there is a trend of what is happening, you can be focusing on a snapshot of things as opposed to the big picture. This can be done simply by saving the data week by week and creating a time series and graphing the data chronologically. With the simple example given here one does not need to do very much to see that things are deteriorating. But when there is a lot of data, the answer might not be so obvious. This can sometimes be discerned by using a regression or (best fit trend line) that is part of a spreadsheet subroutine like Excel. Often there is no clear trend at all. Lastly (and most interestingly), there may be micro trends; during one period things may go in one direct and in another one they may go in a completely different direction and you should look at the underlying reasons which caused things to change. This may be a challenge, but will give you a lot more information to act upon then just looking at a single slice of time.

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