The right mindset for data analytics

Building a company from scratch isn’t easy. Neither is launching a new data analytics programme.

Successful startups need a determined, flexible and creative approach – especially for overcoming hurdles in the early stages. Generally, the most effective startup leaders are inspiring, unafraid of failure, empower their teams and put creativity at the heart of their strategy.

There’s a strong parallel between these qualities and those needed to deliver a successful analytics programme.

The following is a series of lessons, drawn from applying a startup mentality, that organisations of all sizes should consider ensuring the successful roll out of any new analytics strategy.

Lead from the front

Every effective data analytics programme needs a strong leader, unafraid to take risks and innovate. This person needs a forward-thinking mindset and a healthy dose of determination to help others see the benefits change will bring. 

Research has shown that when leaders are the first to embrace new policies, their employees are more likely to follow and succeed. To avoid being held back by the naysayers, it is important to articulate the vision, so that the ultimate benefits of change clear, even if they aren’t immediately obvious.

It is also critical to lead by example, so fostering a collaborative learning environment by taking on tasks that offer quick wins, landing results and sharing these back with the organisation.

Thirdly, be patient: Adopting an analytics strategy is a big change for both process and people. Meaningful change can’t happen overnight, so patience and persistence are essential.

Move fast, fail fast, move on, repeat

Every startup founder is familiar with failure. It should always be recognised as part of the risk and reward balance of doing something for the first time.

When launching a data analytics programme, the fear of failure must be overcome. Early frustration is no excuse to abandon the plan. A good analytics programme will make learning from every setback that much easier.

It’s just as important to embrace feedback. A direct line to your internal business teams, product development for example, makes sure you have contributions from your most valuable audience — the people who use your product day in and day out.

So, leadership should set themselves the following tasks:

  • Draw a map: Layout your plan for the analytics programme rollout with tangible goals and anticipated risks.
  • Take chances: Be willing to experiment and encourage your team to try new things (and maybe fail, too).
  • Listen and learn: Embrace every setback as a rich source of data to learn from. Establish lines of communication where feedback can be captured.

Build a community of internal advocates

Early adopters are among the most powerful evangelists for new technology or ideas. This is commonly recognised among customers or users, but it’s equally important for internal teams.

For any new analytics programme, the most enthusiastic adopters of new processes can have a powerful influence into driving better practice and thinking across an entire organisation. They are also easier to find than you might think. A 2018 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Tech at Work survey of over 12,000 global workers found 84% were willing to spend up to two days a month upgrading their digital skills.

When it comes to activating internal advocates, remember:

  • Spot the early adopters: Not everyone is motivated by change. Identify the people who are energised by learning new skills and exploring new ideas.
  • Build them up: Create platforms where experts can showcase their work and encourage people to join the movement.
  • Prove it: Pull specific and tangible results from early wins to strengthen the argument for change.

Foster an environment of creativity

Startups often have an edge over the industries they’re trying to disrupt because they are either creating something new or challenging a status quo.

What’s the biggest ‘status-quo’ barrier to creativity in analytics? Siloing. In a traditional business information landscape, only a handful of people have access to data. This prevents collaboration and makes some insights impossible to find.

If you want your business to spend more time innovating with data, here are the keys to sparking creativity:

  • Set challenges: Start an analytics programme with set items to prove or disprove.
  • Break down silos: Consider all the data you discover for how it could be applied in new areas.
  • Capture creativity: When data reveals something that will save time, money or offer better customer experience, be ready to put it into practice.

Embrace risk and rewards

As with any startup, embarking on a programme of transformational change carries risks. Where a data analytics overhaul differs is in how much it helps make those risks calculable.

PricewaterhouseCoopers 2019 Risk in Review study revealed that the most successful, ‘digitally fit’ leaders leverage data-driven functions to take calculated risks and ‘engage early in digital initiatives.’

Change is nearly impossible if you always play it safe. Approaching your analytics programme with a startup mindset takes guts, but the benefits from encouraging experimentation, inspiring your workforce and uncovering new insights far outweigh any challenges you may face.

James Eiloart is the SVP EMEA at Tableau, with a single-minded mission to help people see and understand data they grew from a virtually unknown disruptive regional start-up to a powerful market leader. Throughout, their focus was on delighting customers, building a fantastic community, and preserving a great corporate culture.

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