Recently, someone asked what I thought the most undervalued tool in analytics was. Perhaps she expected me to respond with a specific solution that didn't have the recognition it deserved, or a new gem that I'd found. However, after pondering the question, I realized that what is most undervalued is not a tool; rather, it's communication.
All too often, companies struggle to realize the impact of analytics, and they place the blame on the solutions they have in place. Companies can easily be swayed by shiny dashboards and talk of "seamless integration," and they assume that a new solution will cure all their 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, although companies are often willing to drop some serious cash to bring in that new miracle vendor, similar investments are rarely made with the intent of improving communication within and between departments.
The following is part one of a three-part series that will examine how people can communicate better with their team, with other departments, with executives, and with external partners.
Part 1: Communicating With Your Team
Often, analytics teams struggle to communicate even within their group. The communication problem may be a result of the organizational structure, such as decentralized analysts across an organization—or conflicting personality types.
Failure to communicate within a team can lead to inconsistent methodology among analysts, as well as duplication of work. For example, two stakeholders may approach two analysts for the same report or analysis. A failure to communicate may not only result in a waste of resources but also cause duplicate analyses with different results because of an inconsistent methodology. That procedural blunder typically wastes further resources to determine which information is accurate and to uncover why the data differ.
Here are five tips analysts should keep in mind when working in a team environment.
1. Talk to one another
The value of face-to-face conversation is sorely overlooked these days. Far too much communication takes place over email or via instant messaging. However, the complexity of analytics discussions means email is often not an ideal forum.
Instead of firing off your seventh reply in a chain of emails, consider walking over to your fellow analyst or picking up the phone. As much as people loathe adding more meetings to calendars, adding a short, 10-minute meeting can quickly resolve what would otherwise require hours of back-and-forth discussion via email.
2. Schedule short, regular meetings
A quick daily check-in can work wonders. In just five or 10 minutes, analysts can discuss what they're working on, what they're struggling with, or what they've delivered recently. That can spur the "Wait, I completed something similar to that last month. Let me find it for you!" conversation, which can help reduce duplication of work or even allow analysts to help one another with challenges.
For example, at Red Door Interactive, where I work, we have brief "huddles" to discuss our priority for the day, recent wins, and any challenges that might require someone's help. Our huddles are a minimal time investment, but they help keep analysts in touch with what others are working on.
3. Keep documentation
Monitor and document your processes, data sets, and deliverables. Yes, doing so is boring and time-consuming; nevertheless, it's important.
4. Maintain a central repository
Having a central place to store analytics work, especially if you can tag the work by topic, allows analysts to search for related analyses. Even keeping a common Google Doc that lists the analyses the team has completed (with a brief description of each analysis) is extremely helpful.
5. 'Share' meetings
Consider hosting regular meetings for analysts to present findings from recent analyses. Such "share" meetings will provide insight into what other analysts are working on and give analysts a chance to practice their presentation skills. For instance, at Red Door, we organize companywide "expos" where teams share what they've worked on and their recent wins.
As companies grow, staying updated on what other employees are working on becomes more difficult. Share meetings are a great way to get everyone on the same page.
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An analyst can easily blame a failure of communication on organizational structure, believing that integration needs to be demanded from the top. However, analysts can do something about the communication failure at their organization. If the boss isn't requesting a daily touch base among analysts, call the troops together for an informal meeting in the kitchen and conduct a meeting on your own to enhance your communication—and reap the benefits of doing so.