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What are actionable insights? + how to leverage them for software development

Learn why actionable insights are key to contextualizing data, pinpointing inefficiencies, and making business decisions that drive results.

Mar 26, 2024 • 10 Minute Read

Illustration of a screen showing a bar graph, pie chart, and data points.
  • Software Development
  • Engineering Leadership

Actionable insights are contextualized data points that can help you pinpoint why something is happening and how to address it. In the world of software development, actionable insights are fundamental because they can help spot inefficiencies and identify opportunities for improvement. They also provide greater visibility into developer productivity—identifying areas where you can enhance team output to deliver high-quality products. 

Ready to turn your insights into tangible actions to improve your development process? Below, we’ll cover what makes an insight actionable, why it matters, and how you can obtain them.

What makes an insight actionable?

Before understanding what makes an insight actionable, let’s take a step back and understand what an insight actually is. When analyzing data, insights are the interesting facts and observations pulled from that data. Sometimes referred to as vanity metrics, these data points look impressive but lack the context needed to make data-driven decisions. 

On the other hand, an actionable insight goes a step further and provides the why behind the insight. It contextualizes the data, identifies areas for improvement, and informs specific actions to address issues or capitalize on opportunities.

Actionable insights help answer questions like: 

  • What’s going well and why?
  • What isn’t going well and why?
  • What can we do better or differently?

For example, when looking at software engineering metrics, data might reveal that your team’s deployment frequency has decreased significantly over the past few sprints. Let’s use this example and turn the insight into an actionable one.

Insight: Deployment frequency for the development team decreased by 20%. 

While this insight provides concrete data, it doesn’t explain the reason behind the decrease in deployment frequency. 

Actionable insight: Deployment frequency for the development team decreased by 20% over the last three sprints after implementing additional stakeholder approvals. 

Since we know the implementation of additional stakeholder reviews can significantly slow the deployment process, it’s easy to pinpoint the problem and come up with a solution. For example, you could implement automated approval workflows and eliminate the need for manual intervention, allowing your team to deploy more frequently.  

Characteristics of an actionable insight

Brent Dykes, author of “Effective Data Storytelling,” explains that for insights to be actionable, they should possess the following characteristics: clarity, novelty, relevance, context, alignment, and specificity. 

Let’s dive into the six characteristics to help you determine if your insights are really actionable.


Without a full understanding of your insights, you won’t be able to clearly articulate the necessary actions you need to take to achieve your desired outcome. An actionable insight has clear and concise language and uses data visualizations to ensure clarity and understanding.  


Actionable insights should be fresh and unique. Novel insights are much more powerful than the insights you’ve seen before—which likely don’t require further action. The goal is to dissect valuable data that pinpoints new challenges or opportunities to act on. 


Of course, for an insight to be actionable, it must also be relevant to decision-makers and stakeholders. Why is the insight important, and what value or impact can it bring to your organization? Not only should the insight align with organizational goals and initiatives, but it should also be timely—emphasizing a sense of urgency and prioritization.  


Having background information and supporting details is crucial to understanding an insight. Providing context helps stakeholders and team members understand why the insight is relevant. Contexts like historical trends and patterns in data can further support your insights, making them more actionable. 


Actionable insights must also strongly align with your key performance indicators (KPIs) and other important business metrics. When using these metrics as a benchmark, you can better quantify the data and prioritize efforts accordingly. This will allow you to better track the impact of your actions. 


Finally, actionable insights should be specific and explain why something happened. Let’s say your team experienced prolonged code review times. When diving deeper into the data, the team uncovered that their lack of clear coding guidelines and standards was a contributing factor. 

With that information, the team can then prioritize the following actions to reduce their code review times: 

  • Establish and document clear coding standards and best practices with the team. 

  • Ensure all tool integrations adhere to coding standards to help developers make necessary changes to code in real time. 

  • Automate the code analysis process using an automation tool that can quickly check for errors in code before the code review process. 

This specific insight helps explain the why behind the long code review times, making it easier to devise a plan of action to solve the issue. 

Why do actionable insights matter?

Actionable insights are invaluable metrics that can help pinpoint areas for improvement and inform data-driven decisions to drive business success. Here are a few key reasons actionable insights are important: 

Better decision-making

One of the most important aspects of actionable insights is their ability to help with decision-making. After all, decision-making is much more effective when there’s concrete evidence to justify it. Using this actionable data, you’ll be able to make more confident and accurate decisions that drive business growth. 

Fostering business growth

That brings us to our next point. Actionable insights help facilitate growth within an organization. By identifying what’s going well, you can continue to build upon that strategy to drive continuous success. On the other hand, when issues arise, actionable insights can help you better understand what areas need improvement so you can implement solutions accordingly. 

Identifying inefficiencies

Actionable insights can also help pinpoint inefficiencies within your organization.  This is especially valuable in software development, as it allows you to spot development problems that can hinder your team’s workflows. With actionable insights, you can better address these inefficiencies to improve your team’s overall productivity and the effectiveness of your products.

How to get actionable insights

Ready to turn your data into actionable insights? Below, we’ll dive into the steps you can take to get actionable insights that can help deliver results. 

1. Invest in an analytics tool

First things first: You need an analytics tool that can provide valuable insights to your organization. The tool must be able to aggregate data from multiple sources to provide you with the most accurate and comprehensive insights. 

A platform like Pluralsight Flow allows you to look at your data from various sources in one central view, along with multiple reports that analyze different aspects of your business and software development process. It connects with tools your team uses every day, like Jira and GitHub, to give you insights into what your team is working on, where they’re experiencing roadblocks, and how their work is measuring against DevOps metrics.

2. Ensure you're tracking the right metrics

It’s important to track the right data to ensure your actions address challenges and improve key business metrics. For example, some key DORA metrics to track your team performance include: 

  • Deployment frequency: How often you deploy new code 

  • Lead time for changes: The time between when a commit is made and deployed

  • Time to restore service: The time it takes to recover from system or product failure to full functionality

  • Change failure rate: The rate of incidents or failures resulting from changes deployed by your team 

Clearly define metrics and KPIs to act as a baseline to help track progress toward your end goals and measure the effectiveness of your actions. The right tool can help you track data that aligns with these core metrics to accurately measure success.

3. Look for patterns

To better interpret your insights, look for patterns and trends within datasets to help you uncover the necessary actions to take. Identifying patterns allows for better decision-making and strategic planning. For example, you can use historical data to predict future outcomes, making it easier to prioritize and plan work accordingly. 

Additionally, anomalies in data serve as useful information to get clear insights into unusual situations that require further investigation. While anomalies are often viewed as errors or outliers, they can be extremely valuable in addressing challenges and optimizing workflows.

4. Put the data into context

As we know, context plays an important role in your data. Data on its own doesn’t mean much—you need to connect those facts to the why to further explain your findings. Context can also help simplify data, making it easier for stakeholders to comprehend. 

Tableau’s CEO Mark Nelson said it best:

Use the patterns, trends, and other information you compiled to contextualize your data. In our earlier example, data showed a decrease in deployment frequency, and when analyzed further, we found it was due to additional approval rounds. 

That additional context helps us understand why there was a decrease in deployment frequency, making it easier to formulate a decision on how to improve.

5. Visualize your data

Once you've gathered your actionable insights, use data visualizations and dashboards to share them with your team. Visuals help you easily disseminate the information to your team and stakeholders to tell a story with your data—bringing clarity to your insights. 

Visualizations help conceptualize patterns and trends, aggregate large datasets, and simplify complex information. Your visualizations should further expand on the why behind the data, making it easier to understand and formulate data-driven decisions. 

Make your data more actionable with Pluralsight Flow

Actionable insights are the key to making informed business decisions and driving data-driven results. To collect these insights, you need a strong tool that can help streamline data collection. With Pluralsight Flow, you can aggregate your most important metrics and KPIs in one centralized view. 

Workflow diagnostics help improve team efficiency, giving you a full glimpse into team productivity so you can plan sprints accordingly. Utilize Flow's investment profile to see how work is allocated against strategic initiatives. 

Ready to make your data more actionable? Schedule a demo with us today to see how Flow can help.

Flow Transformation Team

Flow T.

Our engineering transformation experts are here to help you and your team embrace The Flow transformation process by establishing a foundation, demonstrating impact, and strategically growing your team in the most effective and efficient way possible.

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