Ken Rudin discusses the keys to analytic success ...

You succeed with analytics when you stay focused on the end goal. It isn’t enough to find patterns in the data and highlight trends and outliers in fancy charts, or deliver insights that can potentially drive business value. Your analysts must actually create business value. If nothing changes because of their insights, then they haven’t added any value to the business. They have to strive to get the business to implement their insights so that they ensure a positive business impact. That means they have to talk with business people and brainstorm ways to turn their insights into business value. The insights can impact the business in many ways. They can change product designs, pricing, or processes, among other things.

Just like a salesperson takes ownership of an account and doesn’t get paid commission unless he makes a sale, it doesn’t make sense to reward analysts for delivering insights that aren’t implemented; you should reward them for delivering value. And you measure value just like everything else. The key is to focus on impacts not insights.

Ask the right questions. I also think it’s more important to ask the right questions than to get the right answers. It’s easy to get answers. We know how to do that, and we have a ton of technology to help in this area. What’s hard is asking the right questions which are going to drive business impact. A lot of this is about surfacing and testing assumptions about what people think drives behavior or business metrics. For example, game design is very creative but is based on a lot of assumptions, like “We can make the game more enjoyable and get people to play longer if we add this feature or change how hard it is to get to the next level in the game.” If you pose these assumptions as questions and test them, then you can prove them right or wrong. That’s key to gaining understanding.

Embed analysts. Finally, it’s important to embed analysts inside the business teams they support. They need to sit side-by-side with business people, participate in all their meetings, and contribute their analytical knowledge and perspective. If they’re not embedded, they can’t possibly master the nuances of the business they’re trying to support. It will take them much longer to perform an analysis and they might miss important details. Also, if they’re not embedded, it’s harder for them to persuade businesspeople to test their assumptions and act on the output to improve the business. 

This is an excerpt from the book, Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders,” by Wayne Eckerson. To read more from the book, click here.

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