5 Things an Analytics Leader Must Do To Make Analysts Happy

bizanalystAnalysts are the lifeblood of a successful, data-driven company.  The analysts within your organization are usually the first to figure out if the company is on track or off track of the goals.  Their happiness can lead to early warnings and quick action to avoid pitfalls.  Their happiness can also help drive innovation and much needed change.

It is essential to keep your analysts happy.  Whether they are part of a corporate insights team, or are a line of business analyst with sales or marketing, there a few things a leader can do to help make them happy.

Trust & Enable, Don’t Dictate – The best leaders lead through influence and enablement, not micro management and total control.   Trust is one of the most important virtues of a team and is a true symbol of teamwork.  When a leader can let things go and let the judgment, experience, and knowledge of their analysts work, phenomenal things happen.

Celebrate Wins, big and small – Analysts have complex and very important roles in every organization. Analysts work hard, very often in sprints at quarter end and quarter begin. For this reason, take the time to help your analysts celebrate.  From cupcakes and beverages in a conference room, to an off-site cart race, let your analysts cut-loose and have fun.

Give Credit – Nothing makes an analyst more upset than another analyst or person taking credit for their work.  Just like recognition helps drive the morale of a sales rep, giving credit to your analyst when and where it counts is a simple act with profound effect.

Freestyle Project Time – Work hard, play hard.  Let your analysts take a few hours each week to work on something they want to related to work.  Whether they want to work on a new data model, an insights project, or attend an online, self service class, give them the time to do something they feel is important to their role.  A few hours each week to work on a project of their choosing enhances creativity and innovation.

Establish a Vision, But Seek Input – As all leaders are responsible for establishing a vision and trajectory for the team, this vision must be based on input from the team.  Allow the team to develop their own mission statement, their own framework, and be the guide to steer them toward corporate goals.   A vision developed by team input is unstoppable.

As an analytical leader, you have a responsibility to keep your analysts happy.  Happy analysts are key to driving data driven change in any organization.   Allow them to flourish, be creative, innovate and share their passion with the organization.

But wait, a sixth BONUS tip

Conference Budget – Allow your analysts to attend one or two conferences of their choosing every year.  Conferences are not only learning opportunities, but also incredible networking opportunities.  An analyst meeting another analyst is like a match made in heaven.  Let your analysts out of the office and share knowledge as much as possible.

Welcome 2017! My Three Focus Words

2016 is history.  Not the best year, not the worst year.  It was a year of change, strong opinions and shock.  From mass shootings to celebrity deaths to the election of Trump, it was a year we will all be talking about and trying to understand for decades to come.

It was also the year that I established myself in the Pacific Northwest.  It was the year I became a two car owner, a year in which I established my style and a year in which I learned about myself.  While I do not have a lot to brag about in terms of accomplishments, I can say I rode the tide, survived the year, and learned what is important to me.

As I look back on 2016 and dream about 2017 will bring me, I am filled with a bit of anxiety, hope, and inspiration.  Like a blank page in an artist’s sketchbook, the new year is a blank slate waiting to be filled with memories, transactions, people, ideas, and dreams.  It is more inspiring than anything.

Back in 2006, Chris Brogan began publishing 3 words to represent and guide him throughout the year.  This tradition is ten years old in 2016.  The idea, as described by Mr. Brogan:

Pick any three words that will guide you in the choices you intend to make for 2016. They should be words that let you challenge yourself as to motives and decisions. They should be words that help you guide your actions.-Chris Brogan

So, without further ado, here are my three words:  Connect, Learn, Build

Connect – connect is about connecting with the community around me, the people, the places, the events, and the technology.  Throughout 2017, I will be looking for opportunities to connect with everything around me.

Learn – While we are required to spend roughly 18 years in school before we are ready to participate in the world, the truth is life is one big school and you should never stop learning.  I am eleven years into a career in Analytics and I realize how fast technology changes.  I need to stay current on the tools.  I also want to set the foundation for grad school, so I have some studying to do for the GRE.

Build – This word has a few meanings to me.  First, I want to spend more time doing things with my hands, away from computer and not reliant upon technology.  From a hydroponics system to arts and crafts, I want to build. Second, build represents establishing a foundation for the latter half of my life.  I see myself undergoing a lot of personal change and 2017 is the year the foundation is built for that change.

What are you three words?  What’s your focus on 2017?

How a To Do List Alone Is Not Productive

Stress is at its highest when one is unprepared.  Managing tasks, putting out fires, and meeting deadlines is difficult without a proper task management solution.

Whether you use the latest smartphone app or just pen and paper, you probably have some form of reigning in all those tasks, big and small, you must get done. Each of these tasks is multi-dimensional in that each has a priority, an effort level, deadline, and could even be related to another task or appointment.   Managing these dimensions is the key to being proactive and productive.

The problem with the to do list, is just that, it is strictly a list.   Making a list of your to do items is critical, but it does not give you the ability to set priorities in a complete manner.  In fact, the longer the to do list, the more overwhelming and difficult to mange it will be.

The solution is pretty simple.  Of course you need a list of task items, but you need integrate both the priority and scheduling.  The easiest was to do this is to schedule them on your calendar just like you would schedule a meeting or doctor’s appointment.

Scheduling your tasks takes care of a few things in one shot:

  1. It automatically sets the priority relative to not only other tasks, but your appointments.
  2. It gives you a clear start time and end time to tackle the task.
  3. It allows you focus on the immediate tasks for the day without getting overwhelmed by seeing tasks for a week or month.
  4. It sets the amount of time you need and have available to complete the task.

Using your calendar, be it a Daily Planner or Outlook, to manage your tasks is a very efficient way to be productive.  By managing a list of tasks and taking the extra step of putting them on your calendar means you are serious about being proactive and productive.  Try it today!

Jumping Into Die-cast Model Collecting

As you get older, collecting things is a great way of expressing yourself.  With collections fitting into the life category of hobbies, just about anything can be considered a collection as long as you have more than a few of the same type of object.

As a car guy, I am an avid automotive follower, having collected just about every issue of Car and Driver magazine from 1992 to 1998. That is a lot of car magazines.  I even started writing my own automotive news and review journal when I started college called MotoCrazy.  Although I never actually published it publicly, it was a great for me to explore my automotive interest.

Fast forward to 2014 and my love for automobiles has not changed.  I still follow automotive news, review new models with skepticism and joy, and even yearn to take a new model for a spin.  While my current day job does not allow me to collect real cars, the world DieCast Models does.

It started with a search on eBay for a 2008 Mazda3 model by AutoArt.  I wanted to have a model of the very car I drive today.  However, I didn’t bid high enough and lost the first auction only to discover paying well over $100 for such a model would have been justified since I have not seen one come for auction since!  Urgh!

As I dove deeper into the world of diecast models, I found a fascinating world of scales, brands, and qualities that were as diverse as the planet we lived on.  My first purchase was a 1967 Pontiac GTO by Danbury Mint in gorgeous Purple Plum paint.  The 1/24 model was intricately detailed and set me back well over $100, but it is worth every penny.

After getting my first purchase behind me, I grabbed a 1995 Ford Explorer by Maisto and quickly learned what sort of quality I expected in a model.  While it was dirt cheap, the quality of this Explorer left me wanting more, almost feeling as though I had been cheated.  The door gaps were large and obvious, the headlights looked fake and the interior was more form than detail.  Clearly, future models were going to have to be a little higher quality.

Diving into DieCast Model Collecting is a lot like real world car shopping.  First, you get what you pay for.  Buy the cheap model and you will get a cheap car.  Buy a high end model and jump for joy, put it on the shelf and relish in its detail.   Second, shop around for the car that best fits your needs.  Numerous manufacturers make a 1966 Pontiac GTO and offer various levels of detail.  Even the higher end manufacturers offer different touches of details. Find the right mix that works for you.  Finally, size does not matter in the respect that 1/18 models are HUGE and 1/64 models are tiny and lack details.   Decide what you are comfortable with and how big of a shelf you have, then buy the scale that fits best.

I am quite happy with my collection so far.  In fact, I have concentrated on buying mid-1960’s GTO’s from a variety of manufacturers, but mainly in 1/18 scale.  My favorite is a 1/18 ERTL-American Muscle 1966 GTO in gold.   I am also collecting each and every model of Saturn I can find. Currently I have a 2002 Vue and SC2.

My 1/43 collection is taking shape, mainly in the form of European cars from the mid-1990’s.  From numerous Saab 900’s and 9-5’s to a Mercedes C180 and Mercedes C36, the 1/43 scale is nicely detailed and offers a nice compact size.  They are also a bit less expensive than the larger 1/18 scale.

DieCast model collecting offers an environment parallel to real world car shopping.   The best part is not having to have a 50 car garage to park them in.  Decide what makes your enthusiasm kick and buy it.  And if you come across an AutoArt 2008 Mazda3 5-door along the way, please let me know.

A Personal History of Task Management

For years I have been looking for a task management tool.  Ever since I tried “Getting Things Done” in college to no avail, I struggled to find the right combination of indexing, ease of use, and accessibility.  With both electronic and paper based options, it seemed everyone had their own idea of what the ultimate the task manager was.  Then you read about successful entrepreneurs who insist they only focus on three things per day (really? oh, you have a secretary, the article didn’t mention that!) compared to my wild mind constantly churning out ideas.

Below are some of the task management solutions from various phases of my life:

  • Mom, Dad and Adults – As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about task management.  Teachers gave you printed agendas, reminded you daily of homework due and you never went anywhere besides school so scheduling was synch.  When you weren’t at school, you had mom to ask, “have you done your homework?” or tell you it is bed time.  Those were the days…
  • Day Runner – I had one of those medium sized ones with a zipper all the way around.  My grandmother gave it to me for my high school graduation present and I used it for years, all the way through to my first real corporate, career job.  I loved the idea of having modules; calendar sheets for week, year and day; daily task sheets; contact list; and even the plastic “pencil” pouch.  The problems here were the bulk (front and back were padded and zippered), the cost and availability of refills, and the limited customization in design.  Eventually, I just started adding blank paper cut to the proper size.
  • Franklin Covey – Very similar to the Day Runner, but rather focused on use of Outlook.  They had printable sheets for us to print our “Day – Memo” sheets from Outlook once we decided what our three main accomplishments were.  What was fabulous was the printed calendar, the limited task list and the notes area.  I used this for a number of years until I switched companies and the new company didn’t believe in Outlook, just Google Apps.
  • Getting Things Done – a great concept and management solution.  However, it seemed too complicated to keep the inbox fresh and the many different components up to date.  Overall, way too complicated.  What I took away, however, was the concept of an inbox and anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it.
  • Smartphone, Palm Pilot, or other electronic organizer – After living without power for two weeks after the Tea Fire, I gave up on electronic to-do apps.  While some are great, they don’t allow for customization and you are stuck with their UI and process. You also have the NSA spying on your to-do list as pretty much all “tech” solutions run in the cloud.  Also, Evernote is unusable when the cat takes over the keyboard.  Also, just about every app makes the completed item disappear after you mark it complete, making past to-do and reference items difficult to find, some apps deleted them permanently upon completion.
  • Printable CEO – A great offline solution which allows for appointments, task prioritization, and notes.  Printing them daily was fine, but some days I didn’t need to print one as the previous day carried over.  The issue here is that each day is a sheet of paper and carrying previous months’ of notes around just isn’t doable in today’s smartphone obsessed world.  Also, I found the layouts to lack customization as sometimes I wish the notes section was twice as large and the appointments section a fraction the size.
  • My Own “Printable” Design – Using the printable CEO as inspiration, I created my own daily sheets which gave priority to notes, had a section for three daily accomplishments and five sub-goals.  I even added a line to write in a memorable, inspirational quote. It worked quite well for a few months, but I discovered on days where I wanted to do a brain dump (write down everything on my mind), I didn’t have enough task space (although the backside of the paper was perfect) and I had to carry that sheet around with me for a few days while I worked through action on the list.  Overall, I found myself re-writing ideas from my head onto the new “today” sheet to make sure I had access to them.  Like Printable CEO, carrying around the archives was hideous, an old school 3-hole punch notebook.
  • The Bullet Journal – My current system is the Bullet Journal.  Think of it as a morph between a Moleskin journal, a Day Runner, and a Printable CEO, utilizing low-tech paper and pen to beautifully archive entries as you go.  I am preparing a follow-up blog post just to discuss the power of the Bullet Journal, but the concept of writing everything down and then using symbols to categorize them is huge for me.  Having a calendar and daily appointment entries works well.  The icing on the cake… drum roll please… the Index.  Finally, a way of archiving entries on paper in a way they are accessible for reference!  Woohoo!  Where, o where have you been all of my life?

Looking over this list and realizing, not only am I getting older, but how diverse task management is.  I believe David Allen said in his first book that he didn’t expect everyone to use his system as he outlined, but rather suggested the reader use the parts that work. For me, the electronic solutions didn’t work, giving credence to “the pen is mightier than the iPhone!” What is your task management history like? What worked for you, what didn’t and where did you end up?

The Best Hobbies

An interesting quote from Dr. Vogel on Dexter caught my mind recently.  They were referring to murder as a hobby when Dr Vogel said:

“The best hobbies take us furthest from our primary occupation.” – Dr Vogel, Dexter

If hobbies are at the opposite of our 9-5 jobs, then what does this mean?  As an Analyst with Marketing and Sales expertise, I spend my day job working with data, creating visualizations, and helping stakeholders understand the health of their business.   I bring to life the power of KPIs and creating conversation about the business through data.  Fascinating patterns and changes in trends spark the best conversations.

It is the more computer based hobbies I spend time on.  From flight simulator (FSX and X-Plane) to triathlon analysis, I do spend more time on the computer than sleeping.  Lately, I have split my time between BootStrap, a web authoring platform from Twitter, and analyzing the 2013 Santa Barbara Triathlon race results.

As a hobby, though, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer at home.  In fact, if Dr. Vogel is right, the best hobbies for me would not involve a computer at all and would focus on the physical as opposed to the virtual.   Interests of mine include art (sketching and watercolor), photography, gardening, triathlon, writing and music.   Interestingly, none of these hobbies are very frequent in my life other than triathlon training.

So, what’s the point of all of this?  Balance.  Dr. Vogel’s comment illustrates the need for moderation and balance in our lives.  Spending too much time behind the computer is not healthy.  So is spending too much time at work.   The balance involves leaving the computer behind after hours, heading outside and experiencing a wider variety of activities in life.   Hobbies are a way of expressing ourselves while relieving stress and spending time with like minded people.   Get as far away from your day job when not in the office as possible!