Too much detail is not actionable, step by step analytics is a better option

Ever read “must be very detailed person” in a CV? Me, all the time. It seems all companies do in finance and analytics is surfing through mountains of detail. Detail is so sexy… employees swear by it.

But quick, what is more action packed this:

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Or this?

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Lack of focus is the number 1 killer of value for data driven organizations. Humans cannot focus on everything at once, they are sequential, they have to process information one bit at the time.

So why are we packing power point slides, excel files, pdfs and you name it with mountains of data points? Because there is a challenge in providing focus: you might miss something.

The fear of missing something is the big reason management wants to see everything, just send me the data, they say. But the moment you just send the data you lose. Analysts don’t provide value by sending extracts, but by leading data driven decisions. Leading here is not a B/S term for do whatever, it is serious work that the analyst has to do to find, provide, explain and manage the insight and the expected actions that come from it.

So how do we convince management to use more insightful analytics? Well, you don’t, at first. The most important thing is not to be hard to work with, so you provide what’s asked but… you also provide your own solution next to it. Let them decide what’s best, let them subconsciously understand they are wasting their time with data dumps.

But how do we structure our solution? In the screenshot above, what if the manager now wants to see the development of sales in Germany quarter by quarter.

Enter step by step analytics.

We don’t have to choose between showing everything and showing only a small fraction, we can do things step by step.

For instance, in the image below we take 2 steps.

  • Step 1, we show the full year situation by country and we show there is a problem in Germany
  • Step 2, the user clicks on Germany and sees the quarter trend, now we show the problem is only in quarter 4

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You can see this in action in Tableau here

And a screenshot here below.

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By doing things step by step we are building a narrative and we are focusing only on the detail that counts (we are still not showing everything, not even in step 2, so you can think of step 3, 4, etc.).

It is important to notice that while managers ask for data dumps they are not the answer. Replicating the analyst work of finding the insight is a huge waste of time and can even lead to errors as everybody looks at data differently. By providing a step by step approach we can still offer detailed drill downs but we can focus the users on what counts.

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