Of the many tools in the data science consultant’s toolbox, the ability to package and communicate insights to business stakeholders is one of the most often overlooked/underappreciated. Having the requisite skills to explain data science concepts in simple terms is a skill that takes time to develop. Below we offer 3 key strategies for effective communication:
Put Everything in Business Terms
One of the easy ways to improve your communication with business stakeholders is to package your message into business terms that are already understood. As data scientists, we tend to get excited when we get to talk about the machine learning algorithm we chose, why we chose it, and various model diagnostics. It is all too easy to geek out on how good the precision and recall of your classification model is, and if you do this you will quickly lose your audience because they likely can’t relate to these concepts. Instead, try repackaging your findings into business terms. For example, let’s say you have built this great model that predicts when a piece of equipment on an oil well site is going to lead to a site shutdown. Instead of talking about how you have achieved a recall score of .95, say that you are able to detect 95% of site shutdowns caused by that particular piece of equipment. By repackaging your message into terms that are already understood, we are able to communicate the same concepts in a way that immediately resonates with our business minded audience.
Place an Emphasis on Value
The second key to successful communication is placing an emphasis on business outcomes. It is well known that the attention span of the average C-Level stakeholder is extremely short, and a surefire way to lose it is to ignore their business interests. Let’s continue with the previous example of an oil well site shutdown detection solution. We have already stated that we can predict 95% of shutdowns that are caused by a specific piece of equipment. So far this doesn’t mean anything to the business. What if we can predict 95% of these events, but they only account for 10% of total shutdown events? What if the cost per shutdown event caused by this piece of equipment is insignificant? Placing an emphasis on potential business value will help put these questions to rest as well as demonstrate the need for continued use of advanced analytics. In our current scenario, we must do our due diligence to investigate things like: how many shutdown events occur per year, what proportion are caused by the equipment studied, how long an event lasts on average, and what an event costs the organization in lost production and repair costs. Armed with this information, we can directly address the questions of key stakeholders by emphasizing the current state of the business, how we can improve this state with our solution, and what this improvement means in financial terms. We are much more likely to successfully communicate the value of our data science solution using this approach than we would be if we simply provided a set of model diagnostics where the business value isn’t apparent.
Take Your Time to Build Up Complex Ideas
Sometimes you may find it necessary to explain a complex concept that is critical for your audience to understand. In these situations, it is best to take your time in order to make sure the message is communicated clearly and effectively. What do I mean by this? Instead of showing an overly detailed PowerPoint slide where the audience doesn’t know where to look, try breaking the concept into smaller pieces. PowerPoint animations and chart callouts can be your friend here. Start by showing the most basic concept you are trying to land, and then build up the story step by step so your audience can follow along. This does a much better job at bringing the key stakeholders along for the journey rather than laying everything out at the beginning and risk not landing the point or losing their attention. Early recognition of new concepts is key here, because it allows you to prepare these type of explanations ahead of time so you can land your message the first time around. As a best practice, it never hurts to have extra slides as backup for when you are unsure if a topic is new to your audience. If you feel the business stakeholders are not on the same page you can simply use your backup slide to explain the concept and continue with the conversation.
Have another strategy you would like to share? Please leave a comment below!