Intro to Progressive Analytics #1: Audiences and Questions

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We have been working on formalizing our approach at Datateer. From our very first customers, the feedback we received was that we were doing things quite differently from what people had traditionally experienced in analytics efforts. My background in software engineering and building products was behind how we were operating. Many principles of agile and lean are naturally baked into the framework we follow. 

We want to use data to answer questions, quickly and reliably. This is the power of data–making or informing decisions, faster and more accurately. By following a framework, we move fast, deliver iteratively, and keep simple things simple, so we can focus energy on the hard things.

This article is to introduce some of the concepts we use, starting with the four layers. Every activity we do fits into one of these layers.

Layer One: Audiences and Questions

When onboarding or starting a new analytics platform, we work top-down and bottom-up at the same time. This results in two simultaneous work streams that meet in the middle.

Starting at the top, we have to understand the business we work in. But we do not always have time to become experts in the business! We approach this through guided conversations or workshops.

Before building a list of Questions, we start by discussing Audiences and Subject Areas

Foundation

Audiences are groups of people who have similar questions that they need to answer. Often departments in the business function as audiences. But not always. SaaS products often cater to multiple personas, and those personas can function as audiences. 

Subject Areas are just high level, logical breakdowns of areas of the business. We do not get too pedantic here. The subject areas need to make sense to the customer and align with how they perceive their business processes. One might have a Subject Area named Customer Journey, another might have Subject Areas of Marketing, Product, and Customer Success that cover similar areas of knowledge. 

Build a list

With Audiences and Subject Areas laid out, we can focus on a list of Questions

“What do you need to know?” with followup questions like “Why is that important?” draw out a lot of information. Our average customer has several years of experience in their business or industry, and most have opinions and ideas. Plus, by avoiding technical details, we are operating in their area of strength. These workshops are easy and fun.

We don’t worry about trying to be precise on the granularity of those questions on the first pass. For example, you get specific questions from your stakeholders, such as “How much revenue did we make in product line X this week compared to the same week last year?” Or you may get very general questions. Don’t be too prescriptive. Just make a list using questions like the following:

  • What questions need to be answered?
  • Why are those questions important?
  • Who asks those questions (which Audience)?
  • How do they use the answers?

Prioritize the list, draw a line

Once we have a list, we sort it by priority and draw a line. If we have a long list, we sort the top 10-15 items and leave the rest unsorted at the bottom.

Then we draw a line. Everything above the line gets attention and is part of the first iteration’s scope. Everything below the line has to wait. Completely. No partial efforts or “go ahead because we will need it anyway.” 

The line should be high up on the list. For the first iteration, even a single question is not too short of a list. Embracing this focus allows us to move quickly to build momentum. By putting all our energy into a smaller scope, we move farther and faster than if we diffuse our energy in many directions

The result of committing to that first question (or small set of questions) is exciting. Often our stakeholders have been waiting a long time to stop spinning their wheels and start moving. This is that moment. 

Conclusion

Starting at the top and focusing on business priorities keeps us from spinning our wheels trying to understand all the data and all the systems that provide data. 

By creating and prioritizing a list, we avoid the common pitfall of trying to do too much at once. We also effectively have created a roadmap. The list of questions functions as a backlog of work that needs to be done, and the business stakeholders are in control of the work priority from day one. 

Because we restrict scope, we create short iterations that give stakeholders a chance to evaluate and adjust their priorities. 

When we start at the top, prioritizing a list, and restricting scope, we have already created a situation with a much higher likelihood of success. 

More to come in upcoming posts, when I will discuss the other three layers:

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