In this blogpost I suggest some characteristics of importance to be successful as an analyst. It is based on my 10+ years experience of working with analytics, in management and non management positions and in many different lines of business.
Integrity but with a responsive approach.
It can be tempting to come up with results that are pleasing to all. It can be tempting to say “yes of course”, when the CEO asks for an analysis that justifies an already made decision. But the role of the analyst is not to present the results people wants to see, the analysts role is to come up with an independent conclusion based on all available, relevant facts. This requires a high degree of integrity.
But this integrity can not come at the price of an overly skeptical approach towards everyone and everything. On the contrary it is of importance that an analyst keeps an open mind and listens carefully to stakeholders questions, objections and priorities. A good analyst understands that being closest to the data doesn’t make her the best strategist or the best interpreter of market movements.
The marketer refers to a campaign as the biggest and best ever. The analyst says the campaign cost X $, had an estimated ROI of X% and therefore it was the biggest and best ever.
An analyst approaches a question/problem with logical deduction; If being successful is defined as meeting our goal, and if our goal for this campaign is profitability, and if profitability is defined as a positive ROI, then this campaign was successful.
An analyst is also able to formulate hypothesis and general propositions based on specific findings. Propositions that can be tested and later evaluated with logical deduction.
Articulate with a flair for simplicity
Statistics is understood by a few while english is understood by most people. The analyst must be able to explain methods, assumptions and results in an instructive way.
Many times “analytics” stops at retrieving data and producing reports. The next level is to do the analysis and thereby turn data into valuable decision support. But there is still no use if the analysis made is too complicated or too badly presented to be understood by the decision-makers.
It is up to the analyst to make other people understand the relevance and implications of the analysis, not vice versa. If you hear an analyst complaining that management don’t understand or pay enough attention, that is an indicator of insufficient self-awareness. Managers might have little time and they might have other things top of mind, but they are rarely stupid. That is just a challenge for the analyst to be brief, precise, easy to understand and clear on what the most important findings are and why.
Attentive to detail and aware of the big picture
An analyst is careful with details. There is no room for being sloppy with definitions, making unnecessary assumptions, mixing data from different systems without checking the consistency between them etc etc. Others might moan over the analysts objections that “we need to double check this…” or “it appears to be X, but it could also be Y, depending on…”. But this is the role of the analyst (it is also the role of the analyst to perform that double check and to rule out either X or Y from the equation).
But in all this attention to detail, it is still possible to end up being completely wrong or totally irrelevant. A qualified analyst has the ability to go from a very detailed perspective to a helicopter view and back to details again, and thus keep an ongoing relevance- and sanity check on the analysis being made.
Self motivated and proactive
The work of an analyst will occasionally lead to clear results and the analyst will hopefully get credit for it. But more often the exact value of the analysis made will not be evident; it will be one of many inputs for a decision, and once action has been taken it might not be obvious at first what the effect was, or why. This is very different from being a sales person closing a deal worth exactly X $.
The lack of immediate and distinct feedback regarding the effect of your work is a reason why an analyst needs to have a strong self motivation.
Not many organizations are data driven and not all managers have an analytical approach to business. The consequence of this is that people might not know what to expect from an analytics department or how to formulate an assignment to an analyst. A likely consequence of this uncertainty is that analysts become somewhat isolated from the business and find themselves dealing with simple issues (the most concrete issues, such as basic reporting), instead of being involved in operational, tactical and strategical business decisions. To avoid such development, analysts need to be proactive in suggesting how they can contribute with insights to improve marketing, product development, customer service, sales etc.
Proactive people are confident in their knowledge, they dare to try and are not afraid of occasionally being wrong. Valuable characteristics for an analyst if combined with an open mind and attention to detail.
Andreas Franson, andreas[@]internetintelligence.se, +46 733 56 41 51