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Communicating project value

Evan Stubbs
August 29, 2011

In other situations, however, this communication process can be challenging. The two parties cannot even understand each other, let alone agree on the outcome. Instead of communication with each other, they often spend time talking at each other. And no matter how many times they repeat themselves, the other party ‘just doesn’t get it’.

If managed inappropriately, this breakdown in communication can derail the entire project. It does not matter how much value the project will create; if the entire team cannot convince the stakeholders and decision makers of the value that will be created, it is impossible to deliver the changes that are needed.

How to communicate

Everyone communicates differently. Because of this, effective communication often does not occur naturally–instead, it requires a plan.

At a personal level, our understanding and frame of reference varies base on our background. Getting over this hurdle often requires establishing a common starting point that others can relate to. By doing this, it becomes easier to relate the information they are considering to their conceptual frame of reference.

Communication preferences need to be considered at two levels: environmental and personal. At an environmental level, organisations and culture exhibit distinct preference when it comes to how timeliness and implicit understanding/explicit communication are treated. Failure to factor these into how things are communicated inevitably causes discomfort and frustration.

At a personal level, individuals tend to approach interpreting new information from one or more of four perspectives:

  1. The analytical perspective
  2. The process perspective
  3. The personal perspective
  4. The strategic perspective

By understanding how individuals prefer to approach interpreting information, you can more easily:

  • Tailor communication of the value of business analytics to a given audience
  • Tailor holistic communication that is more likely to be accepted by a broad audience
  • Link key messages to personal motivations.

These, in aggregate, help the factors that are likely to influence the formal and informal decision-making processes within an organisation.

Successfully communicating the value involves:

  • Identifying the formal and informal decision-making processes
  • Mapping and profiling and decision makers within that process to understand their roles and communication preferences
  • Developing a holistic communication strategy to increase the effectiveness of the team’s ability to communicate the value of business analytics.

The need for a communications strategy

Considering most of us spend the vast majority of our time interacting with others, it is sometimes surprising how challenging it can be to successfully communicate an idea. Even at the best of times, everyone comes across people with whom they find it difficult to communicate.

Because business analytics requires creating organisational change, failing to effectively communicate an imperative for change is a death knell for the project. Regardless of how significant the intended value is, if people do not buy into that value, nothing will change. Critically, though, effective communication is far more than just simplifying and clarifying the message; it requires an understanding of whom you are communicating with. Failure to have this understanding can only make bad situations worse.

The reasons for this are simple. Everyone has a different level of understanding and is being driven by different things, fits within his or her own cultural context, and has different communication preferences.

Analytics is a complex field and it is rare that any given audience will necessarily have the right background to implicitly understand everything that is being communicated. Translation, by necessity, often falls to the analytics manager. Although some people are lucky enough to be innately effective communicators and persuaders, the vast majority of us benefit from applying a more structured approach to make sure that what is being communicated is interpreted correctly, is made as relevant as possible, and creates the desired outcome.

A communication strategy helps through explicitly considering the differences in our backgrounds and thinking patterns, thereby assisting the business analytics manager in tailoring his or her communications for maximum impact. When effectively created and executed, it helps:

  • Minimise misunderstandings between stakeholders
  • Persuade and convince stakeholders of the need for organisational change
  • Improve linkages between the analytics team and execution channels

Our reality is created through our perceptions: we form opinions and understandings based on external influences and the internal mental framework we develop over our lives. When something is said to us, the first thing we need to do is decode that message into something that makes sense to us.

This is an extract from the chapter ‘Communicating the Value Proposition’ taken from the book The Value of Business Analytics – Identifying the Path to Profitability by Evan Stubbs. Copyright (c) 2011. Reproduced with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Evan Stubbs
Evan Stubbs is the regional product manager for Analytics at SAS Australia/New Zealand and has more than 10 years' experience helping organisations extract value from business analytics. A recognised expert in innovation, he has held previous roles in multinational companies such as KPMG Consulting, Deloitte, and General Motors.
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