Member Question: Overwhelmed with Data

overwhelmed at work

I am getting my MBA from the University of Chicago, and I am doing a summer internship at a start up. I have to deliver a final Marketing Plan in 2 weeks, and I am overwhelmed with data. I collected a lot of data and I am trying to write a draft now, but I feel like I will never finish. I have 10 sections in the Marketing Plan, and it’s 12 pages long so far; just for one section, I am listing 15 options with pros and cons. I still have a lot more data in various files everywhere. I feel like I need to organize them all, but that I will run out of time. What should I do to get it all done?

As another example, the company wants me to do a competitive analysis as part of this plan.  There are quite a few types of organizations that compete with our company in different ways.  I have a lot of information on all the competitors, but it will take forever to write about all of them. Even if I list them in categories, some don’t really fit neatly into just one competitor category.  Again, any suggestions?

Lastly, I have opinions about what this company should do regarding their marketing.  I am just not sure how strongly I should write my recommendations when I lay out all the options.  The stakeholders have been fairly open to my opinions so far, but I am just a summer intern.  

I want to do a good job at this.  Please help.

Moira

Lei’s Response:

Moira, thanks for reaching out. First of all, take a deep breath. It sounds like you have done a lot of research, and already have in mind what this company should do with their marketing.  That’s the good news.  It also sounds like that you are overwhelmed with data, stuck in analysis paralysis, and your instinct to be comprehensive and perfect is dominating how you are approaching your work.

Remember, if you are getting an MBA from the University of Chicago, this company didn’t hire you just to create an organized data summary.  They hired you because they value your opinions and your recommendations.  To do a good job with this marketing plan and avoid being overwhelmed, try the following:

  1. Focus on writing your recommendations instead of summarizing all of the data – You should give the company 2 or 3 options regarding what they ought to do. Also, give a fact-supported recommendation for which option you think should be used.  Everything else should be in the appendix.
  2. Work top down instead of bottoms up – sounds like you are working from all the data up trying to summarize everything.  That can easily be overwhelming and make you lose sight of the bigger picture. The company wants to know what they should do with their marketing, so work form the top down. Now that you have all the data, ask yourself what you would do if you were the decision maker for marketing, and why you would make that decision. That will be your executive summary. Once you have that, you can prioritize what is important to write about, and what can be in the appendix.
  3. Your main marketing plan should be <15 pages total with a 1-2 page executive summary – No executive has the time or patience to read through a 5o+ page report.  You say you have 10 sections — that sounds like a laundry list. The report will be easier to absorb if you break it into 3 sub-categories. After you do that, draft the executive summary. Doing these things will help you feel more in control and accomplished — you will see what’s important to include in the main plan to support your conclusion in the summary.
  4. You will not finish everything – that’s okay – There is no such thing as perfect data in business.    You will always be missing data or have more data than you really need to make your recommendations.   Remember, the goal is to help the company move forward in marketing by helping them make decisions in an ambiguous situation.
  5. Have confidence in your recommendations – A mentor once told me, “Business is not like programming — there is no exact right answer that someone holds.” There lies the beauty. You just need to make your best recommendations based on sound logic and data. As long as you can defend your logic, who says you are not right? Plus, it sounds like you have been working on this more than anyone else this summer. I’d say you have the authority to make recommendations.
  6. Use some time to gain informal feedback – By drafting the executive summary first, you can use it to get feedback from the key stakeholders. Ask them to identify gaps in your logic or any blind spots. This way the executives already know what you will recommend, and will be well prepared for your final delivery.
  7. Schedule a meeting to deliver your plan – I know it’s easy to just hand in a written plan, but sometimes plans are not read if you don’t force the issue.  You want to be able to influence action in a company. If you want to make an impact – and it sounds like you do – schedule a meeting with all the key stakeholders, deliver the plan, and help facilitate key decisions if possible.
Best wishes.  I am always in your corner.
– Lei

Member’s Follow up Response:

 Lei, thank you so much for this guidance.  I  am half way through my Executive Summary, and I already feel so much lighter.  I realized that I definitely don’t need more data, and can see which data is more important than others.  Thank you.  I also realize that though I can’t finish everything, I can list some possible next steps for the key decisions that I won’t be able to participate in.  I feel much better about my work and my contributions to this company.  Thank you so much!
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