Data Analysts – keep it simple!

When you’ve got your head down in technical detail sometimes it can be really hard to see the wood for the trees. Data Analysts work in detail all the time – it’s key to being able to produce robust work, and it’s right that the detail is given the appropriate level of attention, as without it, the pyramid of inferences, connections and conclusions drawn from this detailed base layer can become unstable. However, many analysts fall into a trap when it comes to communicating the fruits of their labour – very often they over complicate the message and this can lead to the real value in their work not being realised – the audience just don’t get the message.

There are several reasons why this can happen. Sometimes, the analyst is overly keen to portray how much effort and complexity are wrapped up in attaining the final result and subsequently risk boring and ‘losing’ their audience as they impart technical detail which is often not appreciated or needed. Secondly, in an attempt to impress the audience with their intelligence they end up bamboozling them with science and jargon. Thirdly, they can misjudge the audience’s level of understanding of the subject matter – the audience won’t be as familiar with the data and detail the analyst has had their head buried in over the days or weeks of the project, which can lead the analyst to overestimate the audience’s depth of knowledge and fail to get even the basics communicated.In order to avoid these traps an analyst needs to take several steps:-

1. 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 ‘if I had to summarise this whole piece of work in less than 20 words what would they be’.

2. Then, layer the information to be presented – always have the detail as a back up but only share the top level information to start with, 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.

3. Pay particular attention to the language – simplify the words, use commercial terminology wherever possible and avoid technical jargon.

4. Don’t be scared of stating the obvious – what’s obvious to you is a culmination of the extensive time you’ve spent immersing yourself in the data – often your audience won’t have had this luxury, so don’t assume they will make the connections you have 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 detail as they flit between meetings and making decisions. Just say it how it is. 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!

Steve Hulmes
Head of Demarq Academy