(First published in the WAO/FACTOR newsletter in June 2013)
Results Sharing Governance – I will not surprise you if I say that without efficient result sharing strategies and processes, all your efforts in analytics will be for naught. Strangely, this is one area of Analytics Governance where I see many, many organizations doing a lousy job. It is actually no wonder that the number one complain I hear from analysts is that nobody seems to care about their reports. It is, I must say, almost entirely their fault.
In my mind, information sharing must be one of the most important moments of the analysis cycle. Without communicating insights optimely, i.e. the right stuff to the right people at the right time, no real value-added decision can be made. Failing here means you spent a lot of money on applications, and hired people commading top salaries so that they can have fun with their sophisticated pieces of software; a very expensive way to entertain a selected few, isn’t it?
Before we even discuss how to make people actually care about what analysts will spit out (see the next issue of this newsletter), we need to address why communicating well is so important, and how to be good at it.
Houston, we’ve got a problem
I have said elsewhere that analytics is action, and has meaning only as such. Business analytics is not science, and the sheer pursuit of truth is simply not enough. It is a necessary endeavour, mind you, but not sufficient to actual application of its results within an organisation’s everyday life. Regardless of the presence of opposing forces to analytics within the business environment which is in itself an entire topic, if clear and timely communication is neglected, analysis just becomes a deflated balloon.
Obviously, I assume that what analysts should communicate was previously thoroughly defined, if not, well, right there they are calling for disengagement from their colleagues. Since people will most of the time behave the way they are paid, irrelevant metrics to that fact will just attract vague curiosity at best, and fake enthusiasm at worst. Relevancy is the first quality of efficient communication. This is even more so than clarity, since people will be willing to make great efforts to make sense of something that appears to be extremely relevant to what they need to know (i.e. are paid to accomplish!).
If your organization has been through the KPI definition process, and you still believe people mostly ignore your reports, you probably suffer from a case of Ghost Metrics, metrics that do not measure anything really important, usually the result of political consensus. Or you simply did not put the right efforts in the right direction, and measure stuff people don’t relate to. Never forget Edward Tufte’s words here: “If your numbers are boring, you got the wrong numbers”.
Language, People, Language!
Lingo, jargon, abstruse concepts are particularly what plagues Digital Analytics. I long ago underlined (PDF) that one big problem in our field is that we talk about the business like nobody else does in the organization. Whereas everybody talks about prospects and clients, and how to convert the former into the latter, keep them as long as possible, and make some profits along the way, Digital Analysts talk about unique visitors, bounce and conversion rates, PPC, retargeting, etc.
Every digital analyst will tell you about how much education they need to do just to teach their vocabulary. Sometimes I wonder if the education should not have been the other way around. Besides making sure we measure what people really care about (i.e. are paid to do), we better make sure we communicate it in the language they’re most comfortable with (i.e. the language of the business!).
Dashboards R Us
It has been my sad experience so far, consulting with dozens and dozens of organizations, that analytics communication is equal to visually attractive dashboards in many managers’ mind. Businesses are obsessed with them, repeating the belief that if we got the best tool, we’ll accomplish miracles, forgetting that a hammer is not architecture.
In my mind, dashboards are communication means, not analysis tools. Unfortunately, it seems that many people assimilate them to what they see in their cars, thinking they will “drive” their business while making “Vroom! Vroom!” sounds with their lips, thus the incredible proliferation of really bad visualizations that are not used to communicate clearly and efficiently, but to satisfy the pseudo-need of people to see nice things.
This is so pervasive in the dashboard solution industry, that all vendors I have spoken with would add the latest useless gadgets (gauges, word clouds anyone?), while knowing perfectly they were inefficient, just so that their solutions would have “what clients want”. This is very unfortunately an industry where we are at high risk of letting QWERTY-like bad standards be implemented (OK, we can debate whether it’s a myth or not, but just appreciate the metaphor here), regardless of what very bright people have said.
Talk to Me
Don’t box yourselves in a tool, and consider that efficient communication of analyses can take several forms. One of the great examples I have seen, back in 2004, was a client who would send via email a PDF version of the dashboard we had together designed, with a two-paragraph summary of what needed to be understood. Guess what: most people read those two paragraphs without ever looking at the dashboard. And why not? Mission accomplished, if you ask me.
Making sure the “what to whom at the right time” is done properly requires a lot of careful planning. We are now in a market that pushes very hard bells and whistles, immediate access to data, sophisticated user-right based communication platforms, while being wrapped in too often useless gadgetry. Your first act of governance is to keep a healthy distance, and ask yourself what really needs to be communicated, in the most simple, direct manner, so that people will make the best decisions at the best time.
Whether or not they will take your inputs into account in those decisions remains another topic…