Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Battling the “Data Wheel of Death” in Business Development

In our modern corporate world, data is the most valuable asset a company can hold. Organizational leaders know just how much value there is in the metrics of everything from customer behavior to operational efficiency. From a strategic point of view, data can reduce waste and help businesses to grow more quickly — unless, of course, you fall victim to “the data wheel of death.”

Data can’t build a business on its own, and organizations have to be careful to prevent the most common pitfalls of using data as a development strategy. One of these potential issues, “the data wheel of death,” is something every business leader should be aware of.

But what is the data wheel of death, and how can you prevent it from occurring? Here’s what you need to know.

What is The Data Wheel of Death?

The “data wheel of death” is a term coined by growth expert Brian Balfour, back in 2017. It’s a cycle he identified that holds companies back from making the best use of data in business development.

Essentially, the data wheel of death is a vicious cycle that triggers at a certain point after a company starts using data for strategic benefits and ultimately fails to maintain those efforts. Although these initiatives might work initially, eventually the data becomes irrelevant or inaccurate. When this occurs, people start to trust it less and use it less. This is the data wheel of death — and it’s how lots of organizations end up giving up on using data.

For all the talk of how effective data is for strategic planning and business development, a surprising number of companies struggle with the data wheel of death. Battling this phenomenon is an ongoing project that’s essential for making good use of data in companies across industries.

Don’t Think of Data as Simply a Project

One of the best ways to prevent your company from falling into the data wheel of death is to change how you look at data. A common problem that causes organizations to slip into the data wheel of death is that they view data as a “project.”

Now that businesses of all sizes have access to affordable and powerful data analysis tools, even small businesses are using data to improve their processes and revenue. However, many businesses don’t really view the process of leveraging data as a long-term business activity. 

If you’re not hiring analysts to consistently keep up with data maintenance, you’ll eventually feel like using data in your business is a waste of time — and you’ll be right. Approaching data as a project means that ultimately, your data will become outdated and unhelpful. At that point, you’re likely to reduce how much you’re using data — and you’ll be right in the middle of the data wheel of death. 

Make Data A Core Concern 

To truly make the most of the data you collect, you need to be using it continually and turn it into a process instead of a project. One of the best ways to make sure data analysis stays top-of-mind is to make it part of your organizational values and goals. Be one of the smart companies that rely on data, rather than simple instincts and gut feelings.

Making data part of your organizational culture will also help prevent issues like one team taking “ownership” of the data. If everyone feels involved in the process of using data to improve the business, they will help prioritize it. Sometimes, this involves team training to help everyone understand the purpose of using data and to build a common language around data processing. 

Remembering Data’s Role

Finally, it’s also important to keep a balanced view of data’s role within an organization. Data analysis does not produce growth on its own. When used properly, data can provide a road map for actions that lead to business development. 

Data should be used in business development to get results, and nothing more. Some companies end up seeking insights for insights’ sake, instead of trying to solve specific problems or achieve certain outcomes. 

In battling the data wheel of death, it is possible to take things too far. Company leaders need to avoid getting dazzled by the idea of using data and remember that it is just one of many tools organizations can use to get ahead. 


Andrew Deen HeadshotAndrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in a number of industries from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business.