Data analysts can sometimes be left off the team until we want them to prove our case or “make the numbers work.” This is a traditional and normal way to deal with analytics related to strategic work. Another way to deal with them is to let the Finance department drive strategy, putting all of our eggs into the numbers basket. Neither approach is optimal, or even aligned with the realities of business in the real world.
I have been talking a lot about analytics over the past few months, as my most recent employment was in a contract role as a Benefits Analyst and I have had a few interviews lately for roles that are data intensive.
Along the way I have found that a few principles about analytics have been forefront in my mind:
- Data can be manipulated to say anything you want it to.
- When data says what you want it to, it might not actually be saying anything meaningful. Or helpful. It can be counterproductive by reaffirming existing prejudices.
- Approaching data analysis with a question to answer as opposed to a thesis to prove may result in unexpected insights.
- Unexpected, even undesirable, answers to our questions bring us closer to a real solution than simply proving a case.
When strategic planning initiatives partner operations and analysis, the end result is more powerful and more relevant than either of the disciplines working independently. It is far more efficient for a team to face objective realities of both practice and data along the way than it is to construct a plan that is doomed to fail by way of negligence.