Using A Time Series To Visualize Trends

ThinkstockPhotos-175198671Most 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 example, a sales rep may have a target of making 100 calls a week and 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. People who have achieved their target 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, who did indeed come in with a profit of $510,000 for the month this month, but two months ago, profit was $520,000 and last month it was $515,000. Although profits are still above the target, they are trending downward and if things don’t improve they may soon be below their target.

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It is surprising that many people look at their last period without seeing if things are improving, declining or flat. Without seeing if there is a trend, 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 than just looking at a single slice of time.

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Michael Neidle

Michael Neidle
Michael Neidle is president and CEO of Optimal Management, an advisor to staffing firm owners and managers.

Michael Neidle

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