Data Storytelling: Hey Data Analyst, Are You are a Questionologist ?

Last month I conducted 3 workshops on Data Storytelling in Singapore, China and Malaysia.  During the Workshops I got the Data Analysts to apply the learnings on data they had brought from work. I noticed a pattern in their struggle.

Let us try and dig deeper in to the issue using an example, Imagine you are a Data Analyst and you are presenting the data given below which shows the volume of tickets received versus volume of tickets processed.

Data Storytelling Training and Workshop Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
Source : Storytelling with Data

Most analysts will show this graph and say , ” in the later half of the year we processed less tickets than we received. The moment you hear something like this, as an audience, what goes through your mind is, ” Well, that I can see”.

So what exactly is the purpose of you standing up and speaking?

As an analyst you should always want your audience to know or do something. If you cannot articulate that, then you should revisit whether you need to communicate in the first place at all.

When I brought this up and questioned my workshop participants Why are they not sharing insights and suggesting actions, the answer I got was, “The audience know better and should be able to decide on how to act”.

However, what I am noticing more and more in my Data Storytelling Workshops is that Data Analysts are really far from understanding Why things happen the way they do and even further away from an ability to suggest actions. Their roles are limited to being number crunchers. My experience in conducting these workshops informs that the way most organisations are currently structured, Data Analysts are not really a part of the business where they have the know how of what business activity is happening.

So, with such a limitation what can the Data Analysts Do? 

Here is what I suggest Data Analysts do.

Ask the Questions. The New York Times published a great article,The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What if ‘? which highlights the importance of asking questions. Feedback from senior executives reflects that they need employees and leadership to ask more questions. This is true especially when investigating facts with data.

In this specific Data Presentation if you are not aware what caused the difference between number of tickets received to number of tickets processed. Here are some questions you could ask

Can anyone take a guess on why our volume of tickets recieved to processed changed?
Were there any resignations and were we facing a manpower crunch?
Was our ticketing system having any troubles that led to slowing down of the process?
Did we have new system that the team was still learning how to use?

It is totally fine that you do not know the answer to why things happened the way they did. If you simply said what was obvious on the slide, you are really not needed. But if you asked the questions you can lead the group in to some productive conversations which will reveal the insights that can be used to drive business outcomes. And even if you are highlight the wrong thing, it prompts the right sort of conversation.

So in absence of an insight, being a questionologist is a great move.

In my next blog post I will be covering the role of audiences in generating insights from data presented.

Narrative’s Data Storytelling Workshop is designed to help business professionals drive change with data.

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