The Most Undervalued Analytics Tool: Communication

Recently, I was asked what I felt the most “undervalued tool” in analytics was. I know they expected me to name a specific solution that didn’t have the recognition it deserved, or some new gem I had found. However, when I pondered this, I realised what is most undervalued is not a tool, but rather communication.

All too often, companies struggle to realise the impact of analytics, and blame it on the solutions they have in place. It is easy to be swayed by shiny dashboards and talk of “seamless integration” and think a new solution will cure all your ills. However, if new (and often expensive) solutions are being layered on top of fundamental flaws in communication, you’ll fail to see the value of those investments. Moreover, while companies are often willing to drop some serious cash to bring in the new miracle vendor, the same investments are rarely made in improving communication within and between departments.

In this series of posts, I’ll look at how you can communicate better within your team, with other departments, with executives and with external partners. My advice is by no means exhaustive, but rather what I’ve found successful in my own experience on the client and agency side. Have some other ideas to improve communication? Please add them in the comments, or email me.

Communication within your team

Often, analytics teams struggle to communicate even within their group. This may be partly due to organisational structure (for example, decentralised analysts across an organisation) or even personality types (your stereotypical shy analyst who struggles to communicate.)

Failure to communicate within a team can lead to inconsistent methodology across analysts, as well as duplication of work. Two stakeholders may approach two different analysts for the same report or analysis. A failure to communicate may therefore not only result in a waste of resources, but when coupled with inconsistent methodology, produce duplicated analyses with different results. This typically wastes further resources to tease out whose answer is “right”, and get to the bottom of why they differ.

So what should we be doing within our teams?

1. Talk to each other! The value of actual, face-to-face conversation is sorely overlooked these days. Far too much communication takes place over email or IM. However, the complexity of analytics discussions often means email is not a great forum! So instead of firing off your seventh reply in a chain of emails, consider just getting up and walking over to your fellow analyst, or picking up the phone. Even a ten minute meeting (much as we loathe adding more meetings to calendars) can quickly resolve what would otherwise be hours of back and forth via email.

2. Short, regular meetings. A quick daily check-in can work wonders. For five or ten minutes, analysts mention what they’re working on, what they’re struggling with or something they delivered recently. This can spur a, “Wait, I provided something just like that last month, let me find it for you” conversation (saving duplication of work), or even allow analysts to help each other with challenges: “We do have that data that you need, let me show you where it is.”

On the client side, our analytics team met for a daily “scrum” style standup meeting, with exactly these benefits. On the agency side at Red Door, we have five to ten minute “huddles” to discuss our priority for the day, any recent wins, where you might be stuck and need someone’s help. It’s a minimal time investment, but helps keep you in touch with what others are working on.

3. Documentation. Document your processes, your data sets, your deliverables. Yes, it’s boring. Do it anyway.

4. Central repository of analytics deliverables. Having a central place to store analytics work, especially if you can tag work with different topics it relates to, can allow analysts to search for related analyses. Even just keeping a common Google Doc that lists the analyses you’ve all done, with a brief description, is better than nothing!

5. Sharing meetings. Consider regular meetings for analysts to present findings from recent analyses to each other. Not only will this give you insight into what other analysts are working on, but it gives analysts a chance to practice their presentation skills.

At Red Door, we actually have company-wide “Expos”, where teams will share what they have worked on and recent wins. As companies grow, it is difficult to hear about what others have been working on. This is a great way to get everyone on the same page.

One note on these fixes: it is easy for an individual analyst to stand back and blame a failure of communication on organisational structure, and believe that integration needs to be demanded from the top. However, there are things you can do as an individual. Your boss doesn’t demand a daily touch base amongst analysts? Call together the troops for an informal, “while you get coffee” meeting in the kitchen and do it yourselves. No mandated sharing meeting? Set one up yourself – do it over lunch if you need to. Ultimately you’ll benefit, and it will even give you an example of your initiative to show your boss or a future employer.

Next post: Communication across departments 

2 thoughts on “The Most Undervalued Analytics Tool: Communication

  1. Pingback: eMetrics presentation: Communication | MicheleKiss.com

  2. Thanks for this great post. You are definitely right that communication is one of the most important things (not only in business). I think the higher the position of the analyst the more important is your communication skill.

    Lets say a web analyst team leader has to be very good at it as he get more information and has the overview of the team. So we have daily huddles before lunchtime as the leader got enough information in case of priority things.

    Unfortunatly i know some companies and teams where communication is a big problem.

    As you wrote as an individual it is possible to make those huddles while waiting for coffee. I think this is only a plan b solution. If the leader doesn’t have these skills the company should work on this problem. For example the hr department should find a solution with the leader how to improve his skills.

    Thanks again for the post.
    Best Regards,
    Gerhard Klassen

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