Why data analyst pushback is good for your company

directing trafficAs a business executive you’ve got a lot to do–your responsibilities are many and varied, and it feels important for the people around you at your company to be team players and smooth the way whenever possible. But what if rather than smoothing your way, that approach is getting in your way, or even causing you to lose your way?
Here’s how things usually go: you have an idea about some information that your website can provide, so you go to your web analytics team and tell them what you need. Chances are, you’re going to get it, but maybe you shouldn’t. In order for web analytics to contribute to the core mission of your company, the thing you ought to get from your analytics team is pushback.
Your analysts are data geeks, and they want to go paddle around in the numbers. But as tempting as it is to just jump right into the problem you’ve brought them, you’re all better served if they push back at your request, so that everyone’s time is spent in a way that really benefits your company. Their response to you should be, “Explain to me why you want this information. Say I get it for you–what are you going to do with it? Show me the actions that this information will inspire.” Faced with these questions, if you as a business leader can’t come up with specific answers, then odds are good that your curiosity about that bit of information is just going to burn through your analysts’ time and your analytics budget without ever producing information that leads to useful actions or insights.
You can see that your analytics team serves you best by helping you clarify exactly why you want the information you’re asking for, but you can also see that it’s not a comfortable position to take. They may not feel up to this level of interrogation–you’re the boss, and they’re the guys hired to work their data magic, after all. If it’s hard for them to ask you these questions, you’re going to have to ask them yourself. Once you’ve gotten some clarity around the business decisions the information can connect to, your analytics team will be more than happy to see about rounding up what you’re looking for. Armed with carefully targeted information, you can put it to work for you in genuinely productive ways.
Whether or not they can ask those hard questions, what happens if you can’t answer them? Your analytics team is not only the resource to look to for data answers–they’re a good source for better, more meaningful data questions. Working together, business leaders and analysts can determine which questions will be more productive, and which ones will just result in a little bit of sparkle but no real substance. So take advantage of the direction your analytics team can give you, not only with smart answers, but with smarter questions. A little bit of pushback may send you in a more productive direction.

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