In just milliseconds, IBM’s Watson computer was able to search and evaluate thousands of potential responses to clues on the Jeopardy! game board and ultimately beat out its two human competitors on the game show. But in a real company setting, having the right answer isn’t enough. In real life we need “soft skills” to communicate, persuade, collaborate and work with others. An article in the January/February 2011 issue of Analytics Magazine outlines six soft skills that every analytics professional needs — skills that Watson doesn’t possess, at least today.
1) How to turn a client into a partner
Every project has a “client” who is responsible for it. Analysts need to develop a winning relationship with that client and be aware of potential conflicts that exist. By exploring and discovering the problem together with the client, learning from each other, and making the client your champion, it’s possible to turn a client into a partner.
2) How to turbocharge a project team
Project teams bring together people with different skills, vocabularies and approaches to problem solving which benefit the project team but can also get it bogged down. It’s important to follow a process without taking shortcuts, to carefully plan meeting time with project teams, to manage conflict by keeping the team focused on the problem at hand, and to find a healthy balance between divergent and convergent thinking.
3) How to frame a problem
Stakeholders – people inside and outside the organization who can influence or are impacted by the project – are an important constituency to be aware of. By talking to stakeholders, building a decision framework and creating a value hierarchy, analysts can understand and manage expectations that stakeholders might have.
4) How to elicit data from experts
When empirical data is unreliable, ambiguous or conflicting, analysts may have to rely on expert judgment. Planning and conducting formal interviews with experts to gather their input is critical. Biases can be counteracted by hypothetically exploring interpretations at the extremes before asking for an judgment.
5) How to collect data from groups
Whether it’s a committee, panel or other working group, eliciting and combing data from a group is often necessary. Group assessment approaches such as the Delphi Method or swing weight techniques can help bring the group to convergence. Sensitivity analysis will show how results would vary across the range of individual inputs.
6) How to get a decision-maker to say “yes”
A project is not successful unless the results are understood and accepted. It’s important to understand the decision maker’s objectives and perspective. Communicating with a compelling story can help decision makers understand complex concepts. Summarizing conclusions on a single page and providing insight that the decision-maker can understand and appreciate will help get that person to say “yes”.
Overall the authors recommend three guidelines to keep in mind:
- Be a good listener. Ask open-ended questions, paraphrase discussions and show empathy for people who are touched by the work you are doing.
- Seek to build consensus. A solution reached by consensus has a much better chance of success because everyone has the opportunity for input and has personal ownership of the solution you’ve developed.
- Transfer soft skills to the organization. Teach what you’ve learned to others and instill the attributes that help create a high-performing organization.
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Spotfire Blogging Team
Photo courtesy of Analytics Magazine