Understanding the Big Picture

Communication is king in analytics and modeling. The success of any project hinges on purposeful, transparent communication. The readout is the primary way we communicate the results of projects with clients. The purpose of a readout is to convey actionable insights to the client’s team, and then arm them with compelling next steps relevant to their strategy.

There are two recurring hurdles I’ve observed in analytics projects that can hamper readouts:

  1. The team prioritizes the communication of what, or how much was done, over why it was done.
  2. The team fails to draw compelling conclusions that relate directly back to the client’s goals.

Focusing on Why

It’s natural for any analyst, data scientist, data engineer, or optimization specialist to be excited about the number of bells and whistles leveraged to complete an analysis. In fact, when in conversation with peers, it might be the most relevant and entertaining topic of discussion!

However, excitement about the complexity of an analysis can produce the opposite effect in the context of a readout. It is relevant, but not the most relevant. And it is fun, but not the most fun.

The methodology is always relevant—after all, it’s the reason you were hired to do the analysis in the first place! But extended focus on any methodology, even if it is best practice and conceptually elegant, can undermine the power of your results. I would encourage you to simplify your summary of the approach to no more than a slide in a deck, because the easier the approach is to understand, the stronger your results will be. Include greater detail in the appendix as needed.

The methodology is always fun, too—but only to a point. Clients are most interested in the actionable implications of the analysis or model the team has built. Though the methodology might be fun, it is only ever as useful as the substantive conclusions you are able to draw because of it.

The purpose of any readout is to arm clients with actionable, compelling next steps and a summary of the evidence that suggested them. Clients want to be able to comfortably explain the steps you took, and the fewer steps you communicate, the easier that is to do. The “meat” of the readout isn’t how you made it happen. The meat is how they can use your readout to move their organization forward.

Linking to Goals

Suggested next steps can torpedo the success of a readout when they are not actionable, when they are without warrant move the client away from where they are trying to go, or when they are entirely irrelevant to the original research question.

Inactionable conclusions. The modal problem I observe is the drawing of conclusions that the client cannot take any action on.

For instance, the team may include in the next steps section that a family’s income is a significant driver of probability to convert on, say, a major purchase. Well, great…the implication is that we must:

  1. Hire people with lower household incomes away from their current jobs;
  2. Raise their household income level, then;
  3. Provide them with another opportunity to convert?

That doesn’t seem like a cost-effective strategy!

Conclusions are most compelling when the next steps are readily and logically achievable, especially within the client’s organization.

Conclusions that are inconsistent with the strategy. In some cases the analysis or model your team produces may lead you to draw the conclusion that the client should be pursuing a different strategy entirely. That is OK—that’s the blessing and curse of living in a data-driven world.

In most cases, however, the scope of the analysis will not have been large enough merit a full examination of the client’s strategic direction.

It is inappropriate to suggest next steps that contradict strategy when the scope of the project does not sit above the strategy. Instead, suggest another project that more completely analyzes the strategy given the inkling you have discovered.

It is worth mentioning that conclusions can be unexpected yet still consistent with strategy. In fact, unexpected conclusions are beneficial because they indicate that we learned something from the unexpected results.

Irrelevant conclusions. We’ve all been there: deep in the weeds, pushing at a challenging clip to deliver the project successfully. We finally get to the wrap-up, and…

“Wait, why were we doing this again?”

The immediate impulse is usually a statement of the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it is so top of mind that it is usually irrelevant.

For example, your analysis of a digital campaign’s ROI was hard fought, and now you conclude…

“The most efficient content strategy will rely on the development of an internal ideation platform!”

I’m sorry, but what evidence in your campaign-level ROI analysis suggests that the client needs an internal ideation platform? It may be a good gut feeling, and it may be true. But there’s no result to support that conclusion!

As another example, the immediate impulse may be a frustration you’ve had during the project…

“We conclude that the client should re-prioritize IT’s data lake initiative to make it easier for us to pull the data in the future.”

How does this arm the client to move the needle? It more surfaces a frustration the whole organization already feels. It may be true, but consider tackling it as part of a larger strategic engagement—not the present analysis.

I encourage you to resist the initial impulse in cases like these. Spend a day or two on other projects, and then come back to the project with fresh eyes. The implication of the results will become much clearer, and it will prevent irrelevancy, the killer of decent work.

Remember the Big Picture

It’s important to come back to the original question and make sure you are aligned with where you had committed to go. Doing so will improve the quality and efficacy of your projects.


Side note: As an executive, I get the greatest kick out of the framing of the original question. Readouts, in my opinion, live and die on the strength of articulation that comes from the original question in the first few slides. Your team should be very comfortable leading the scoping discussion towards a strong core, well before the analysis is every completed.


Work Product Guidelines

To those joining the team…

Many people joining the team remark with surprise that my delivery requirements are old-school.

If you too have taken note of this, you’re not alone!

As you will find, I believe there is value in organized and thoughtful work rituals.

If that’s old-school, then I will bear the quality proudly!

I detail these work rituals on these pages. Please review them whenever you want a refresher:

  1. Drawing Conclusions
  2. Executing the Process
  3. Understanding the Big Picture


All Resources