How to make sure analytical work hits the mark with stakeholders
When you’ve got your head down in technical detail, it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees.
Data analysts work in detail all the time, because it’s key to producing robust work. When the detail isn’t given the appropriate level of attention, the pyramid of inferences, connections and conclusions drawn can become unstable.
However, as crucial as the detail is, many analysts fall into a trap when it comes to communicating the fruits of their labour back to their stakeholders and decision-makers. Very often, the analyst overcomplicates the message – albeit without meaning to – and this can lead to the real value in their work not being realised. In any such case, the end result is that the audience simply doesn’t get the message.
Why analytical work can lack detail and miss the mark
When it comes to analysts missing the mark with their work, there are several reasons that we commonly see or hear about:
- The analyst might be overly keen to portray how much effort and complexity is wrapped up in attaining the final result – an innocent but common mistake. Unfortunately, in doing so, they risk boring and ‘losing’ their audience as they impart technical detail – which is often not appreciated or needed.
- In an attempt to impress with their intelligence and analytical prowess, the analyst just ends up bamboozling the audience with science and jargon that confuses their understanding.
- The analyst overestimates the audience’s level of understanding of the subject matter. It’s easy for data analysts to forget that their audiences are nowhere near as familiar with the data and detail as they themselves are, having had their head buried in the data over the days or weeks of the project. This can lead to the analyst ultimately failing to get even the basics communicated.
- The analyst is juggling a high workload and therefore cuts the corner when it comes to translating the detail. This is a very common problem, but one that needs to be addressed.
How to ensure stakeholder understanding
These traps are avoidable, though. To steer clear of them, an analyst just needs to follow this process:
- Take a step back and think clearly about the message you want to leave the audience with. Think top-down rather than bottom-up, and ask yourself the following question: If I had to summarise this whole piece of work in less than 20 words, what would they be?
- Layer the information to be presented. Always have the detail as a backup, but only share the top-level information to start with – i.e. the message you want the audience to take away. This should include a summary of the work and, if there are any, recommendations and conclusions.
- Pay particular attention to the language. Simplify the words, use commercial terminology (wherever possible) and avoid technical jargon.
- Don’t be scared of stating the obvious. What’s obvious to you – the analyst – is a culmination of the extensive time you’ve spent immersing yourself in the data. Your audience, on the other hand, will not have had this luxury – so don’t assume that they’ll easily make the same connections that you’ve made.
These steps are particularly important when dealing with senior management, who may not only be furthest away from the detail, but often have very little time to absorb the detail as they flit between meetings and making decisions.
Just say it how it is. Tell simple stories with the data.
Instead of “Our analysis shows that in the periods observed there has been an increase in revenues of 6.34% within the consistent store network”, try “Like-for-like sales are up over 6%”. Much more succinct, simpler and to the point!