Can you tell a data story without an insight?

The biggest roadblock to effective data storytelling is this statement I hear repeatedly, “But I don’t know what the insight is.”

As someone who works with data analysts a lot, I have been looking for ways to remove this roadblock. A few years ago, in my research on this topic, I stumbled upon a sequence of analysis used by radiologists ( Radiologists are medical doctors that specialise in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging)  that can help data analysts overcome this roadblock.

Let me explain how can you data storytell without insights.

Say you work for a factory and you are the appointed data analyst who has to tell the story behind reduced production in the factory. There are multiple reasons you need to assess and bring together on reduced production but the answer is not clear.

I would suggest that you describe the reasons seen and what areas are not clear. End up giving a short list of possibilities with one or two probabilities. Possibilities could be many but probabilities are more streamlined.

In summary, your goal here is to

1) Analyse the findings and come up with possible causes.

2) After you have possible causes see what could be the probable causes

Here are some ways to reduce possibilities and have a short list of probable causes

  • More information from other business units. For example, if you  look at the data for the number of tasks done by the factory workers and you notice the tasks done are way below the average, you can ask for more information about resignations, systems failure, holidays etc.
  • Historical data. For example, if the tasks done fall below average every year around this period? Is it seasonal?
  • Ask for more data points required to find out what is happening. For example, you may ask data on background information on where do these workers come from, to further investigate.

3) Collaborate with business unit to get to actual finding from the probabilities.

It is important for the data analyst to keep the following points when presenting data. 

  • You are not the keeper of all the information and you may need to get more information from the business before you can come to a conclusion. And that is more than fine. Many a times you need to trigger a conversation, not provide a solution.
  • You need to be comfortable with sharing a point of view based on the best information available to you and giving the data a direction.
  • Be descriptive, share what you see and what you don’t.
  • Share possibilities and probabilities.

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