5 Things New Analytics Leaders Should Do to Succeed

By Bill Franks, May 18, 2017

Any new leader in any field will have to face several challenges in the first few months on the job if he or she is to succeed. On May 11, The International Institute for Analytics (IIA) hosted a webinar where IIA co-founder Tom Davenport and I discussed some of the challenges analytics leaders face and what they can do to ensure success. While the action steps apply broadly, we focused on how they apply specifically within the realm of analytics.

This blog explores the key themes at a high level. The full webinar is available for replay here. Also look for a longer, more in depth research brief in the coming weeks that covers the webinar conversation.

What Are The 5 Things A New Analytics Leader Should Do to Succeed?

1. Get the Lay of the Land

No matter how familiar you think you are with an organization as you take on a new role, there is always more to learn once you’re on the inside. The fact is that some information and team dynamics either aren’t shared or can’t be gleaned by someone from the outside. You must dive in as a member of the team to get the full view.

In the early days, it is critical to figure out who’s who within the broader corporation, what resources are available to the team (people, tools, technologies), what core analytics products or services the team provides, and what the key upcoming analytics initiatives are. Without a solid understanding of how things are going and where they need to go from here, it is hard to make progress.

2. Shore Up Your Team

As a leader, managing your analytics organization is a big part of the job. As a first step, it is important to figure out what your team is made of. Who has a high level of skill in specific analytics methodologies? Who is good at tying the business problem and the analytics together to properly scope a project? Who is adept at handling the presentations to executives? Who excels at keeping the team rallied together when challenges arise?

Inevitably, there will be areas where the team has some gaps. You’ll need to start planning how to fill those gaps and work to understand the interpersonal dynamics on the team – both good and bad. As you understand the team better, you can then lay out a plan to evolve the team over time.

3. Secure Your Seat at The Table

One awesome fact today is that, after decades of watching from the sidelines, many analytics leaders have a reserved seat at the table. That’s a great starting point, but being given a seat doesn’t mean it is yours forever. It is still absolutely necessary to demonstrate why you deserve that seat and what you’ll be bringing to the table. How you make use of that seat is what will determine your success.

From the start, you must focus on establishing your credibility, demonstrating your leadership style and approach, and learning how to navigate the choppy waters of ever-present corporate politics. Developing relationships with other key leaders in the organization will be central to success, as will accepting advice and input from them as you also begin to offer your own advice back.

4. Identify and Execute an Early Win

Like it or not, people and corporations have short memories. You’ll only be viewed as “the new person” for a very brief period of time. After that, you own your role and you’ll be accountable for producing. Nothing helps to form an early impression more than getting a quick analytics win or two under your belt. Once people know that you CAN produce analytical results, they’ll be a bit more forgiving when you hit an inevitable snag in the future.

The key is to pick the right short term plays. Clearly, you need to choose analytics efforts that are achievable. However, those efforts must also have distinct value to the organization and must address some issues that are top of mind. Success on a low value analytics project nobody cares about won’t do any good. The problem is an optimization of sorts: you must balance potential impact with political relevance and the probability of success within a short timeframe.

5. Leverage Your Ecosystem

It goes without saying that no individual or team can do it all themselves. This is as true for analytics as it is anywhere else. Always remember that as a leader, your job is to see that things get done. Precisely who gets it done and in exactly what way won’t matter to people so much if at the end of the day you are successful in getting it done. With this in mind, be sure to consider all options.

Taking advantage of what other internal teams have to offer is one path that must be explored. Equally important is to consider what external organizations have analytics products or services that can help your team progress faster than would be possible on its own. As long as you maintain ownership of the strategy, outsourcing some of the execution can make a lot of sense. With the pace of change in the analytics space today, it is almost certain that you’ll need to reach outside your team at various points along the ever-evolving journey.

While the five topics covered during the webinar aren’t exhaustive, they are a great starting point for new analytics leaders to consider. Starting strong in the first 90 – 120 days can set a tone and precedent for the rest of your tenure. Being diligent and thoughtful in how you approach the early days can make a real difference.

We at IIA are putting together a longer research brief on this topic. If you have an example of how you’ve seen any of these five concepts applied in practice or if you have any other points of advice outside of these five, please reach out and let us know by emailing and using the subject “Input on what new leaders should do to succeed”

Originally published by the International Institute for Analytics

About the author

Author photo

Bill Franks is IIA’s Chief Analytics Officer, where he provides perspective on trends in the analytics and big data space and helps clients understand how IIA can support their efforts and improve analytics performance. His focus is on translating complex analytics into terms that business users can understand and working with organizations to implement their analytics effectively. His work has spanned many industries for companies ranging from Fortune 100 companies to small non-profits.

Franks is the author of the book Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., April, 2012). In the book, he applies his two decades of experience working with clients on large-scale analytics initiatives to outline what it takes to succeed in today’s world of big data and analytics. Franks’ second book The Analytics Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., September, 2014) lays out how to move beyond using analytics to find important insights in data (both big and small) and into operationalizing those insights at scale to truly impact a business. He is an active speaker who has presented at dozens of events in recent years. His blog, Analytics Matters, addresses the transformation required to make analytics a core component of business decisions.

Franks earned a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Statistics from Virginia Tech and a Master’s degree in Applied Statistics from North Carolina State University. More information is available at


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