Turning data into actions

By Elizabeth Green on February 25, 2022

"Data, data everywhere..." but it's not useful unless we can actually use it!

Data insights need to be actionable to be valuable, but more than that, they need to be impactful – they should direct action and decision making. ‘Nice to know’ won’t move the dial and drive meaningful results for your business.

What is an actionable insight?

An actionable insight is a compelling truth that has a meaningful impact on a course of action. It is often a fact that would have gone unnoticed without in-depth analysis. 

These insights will engage your audience; they should be powerful enough to influence their decisions and implementable enough to drive positive change.

Why does it matter?

Businesses are producing more data than ever before, and most now understand that it can give them a competitive edge. Actionable insight is how companies unlock that potential quickly and effectively, they provide a specific solution to a business problem and a firm grounding for an evidence-based decision.

Where do I begin?

Communicating actionable insights can be tricky. Many of us are great at spotting trends and patterns in data, but weaving that into a compelling narrative that enforces data-driven recommendations is a skill that, like Python and SQL, takes some time to learn.

Before you can draw out actionable insights, it’s important to take a step back from your analysis and evaluate some areas of interest. Here’s some key questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the overall message the data reveals?
  • Which parts of the analysis support this message?
  • Which parts of the analysis do not support this message?
  • Why should the audience care about this message?
  • What actions should they take based on your findings?
  • What actions can they take given the context of their business and their position/role within their business?

How do I ensure my insights actually are actionable?

Now, this is the particularly tricky part, not least because it requires sound commercial understanding of what is possible and realistic. An actionable insight must be something line of business users can interpret and put into play easily. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Check your assumptions with commercial teams, take time to understand their processes and – most importantly of all – their pain points. Overcoming common hurdles is a huge motivator for implementing change. 

Once you have nailed down a focus area, you can begin pulling out some actionable insights. Consider the below questions when evaluating the effectiveness of your recommendations:

  • Are they relevant to the audience? That includes the market, competition and wider industry?
  • Are they consistent with wider business objectives?
  • Is the recommendation feasible and implementable? Does it make commercial and strategic sense? 
    • I.e., If a small company with capital constraints is having an issue with employees complaining about being cold in the office, recommending them to rebuild all of their offices may not be the most effective use of their money. If we take into consideration the context here, this would be a large drain on their limited capital resources. A more appropriate and cost efficient recommendation may be to turn the heating up.
  • Does your recommendation provide a solution to the initial questions asked by your audience? 
  • Are they well justified with simple and straightforward evidence?
  • Can the value or impact of the action be quantified? I.e., “Customers who shop at X also like to shop at Y. Using targeted campaigns to engage these customers, you may expect to see a Z% increase in total sales.”

And last but not least…

There is one key point that’s easily overlooked – does the tone of your recommendation suit your audience?

There are three stages to presenting a data-driven recommendation; 

  1. Set the scene and make it clear you understand the issue
  2. Explain your assumptions, the data sets you analyzed and your key findings 
  3. Talk through your recommendations with a focus on the results they will drive

You are bringing your audience on a journey with you. Which means they need to empathize with you and your recommendations. Be optimistic and focus on positives rather than negatives, be clear, empathetic and confident in your delivery. 

Most importantly, get to know your audience and the most effective way to deliver insights to them. Are they visual, or would they like to see the numbers? 

Being in a position to present your work and influence the direction your business heads in is an incredibly rewarding experience. Yes, it’s nerve wracking the first couple of times and every presentation doesn’t always go to plan, but every experience is an opportunity to learn more about business processes and the issues plaguing the teams around you. And better commercial understanding that will ultimately make us better data analysts. 

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