A Manifesto for Radical Analytics

Stéphane Hamel, MBA, OMCP
5 min readAug 15, 2016

I’m blessed to have worked over the past 25 years to help organizations become more data savvy and analytically mature. Large and small, data-driven or not, client-side and agency-side, and in a wide spectrum of verticals — in short, a boatload of experience. My renewed freelance role and market position mean I get to collaborate with many great agencies, startups and vendors in the digital analytics space.

I might sound cliché, but I’m exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly. . .

And I had an epiphany.

The way most practitioners and consultants approach digital analytics is defunct and in need of a radical overhaul.

Why Radical Analytics?

radical: adjective | rad·i·cal | \ˈra-di-kəl\
“very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary”
Merriam Webster

Some people heard me say “Radical Analytics” and were a bit disconcerted by the term — but I assure you, “radical” is really what I mean, as you will see in my upcoming articles.

What if we’ve been doing it all wrong? The mainstream idea was to gather Business Requirements from our stakeholders, define objectives and KPIs that would resonate across the whole organization. Create a Solution Design, Implement, Test, Go Live and hope for the best. We were expected to dive in the depth of an ocean of data and find the “precious” — the one and unique golden nugget of wisdom that would transform the organization. We’ve been told to “get executive sponsorship” and our goal should be to get a seat at the “grown up” table of management. In a nice echo chamber marketers despised IT and gave themselves pat on the back reinforcing the idea they were destined to become the CTOs, CMOs and CEOs of the future.

Seriously? How is it going for you?

Radical Analytics session recorded at the Superweek Conference, January 2017, Hungary

Here’s the thing. . .

. . . Your stakeholders typically don’t have a clue or they don’t know how to properly articulate their needs.

. . . The waterfall approach of business requirements, solution design, implementation, test and go live simply don’t sync with agile concepts and the use of tag management systems.

. . . Many people who claim to be “digital analysts” are really just self-proclaimed experts of a certain tool.

. . . There is never enough budget, never enough resources, never enough time to learn new tools, never enough focus to make your job easier and more interesting. Get over it.

. . . There are very few discussions about making the “process” of analytics simpler, but a deluge of unproven and unfulfilled promises the newest shiny object will make you the super-marketer you ought to be.

. . . and many more symptoms something is wrong with the way we’ve been doing digital analytics for over a decade.

“A major indication that there are problems in a field is when there is no consensus as to correct methodology or technique.” — The State of Authorship Attribution Studies

Radical Analytics Premises

In the coming weeks, I will share my thoughts about a few radically different ways of managing digital analytics. Here are some premises:

  • Digital Analytics is Dead. Long Live Analytics. This is how I define “Analytics: How an organization arrives at an optimal and realistic decision informed by data”. Plain. Simple. Nowhere does it say it needs to be “digital”;
  • Eat Your Own Dog Food. An expression coined by Microsoft in the 1980s which basically means “practise what you preach.” If we can’t measure and optimize our own job, how can we pretend to do it for the business? After all, “Analysis” is how you break something complex into smaller parts to gain an understanding of it. This should include our own job;
  • Embrace Agile or die. We should recite the “12 Principles of Agile” every night before going to bed.
  • Never ask, always propose. Don’t ask for objectives and KPIs: Propose. Never come unprepared. Never ask closed yes/no questions because either way, it shuts the door on potentially better alternatives. Don’t ask open questions because it puts your interlocutor in a position to tell you what and how to do things, rather than sharing why a given business challenge/opportunity is important to them. Offer A/B alternatives and optimize from there — just like you would for your website.
  • DMAIC is your BFF. There’s no such thing as a “Digital Analytics Process,” there’s only a good problem solving and optimization process. Unless proven otherwise, I will continue to shout loud and clear that Lean Six Sigma Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control is the way to go;
  • Don’t seek executive buy-in. Early buy-in is a recipe for failure. The most meaningful innovations have their seeds in small experiments and quick iterations leading to small, incremental victories. Focus on what you Manage, Control and Influence.
  • Analysts are Change Agents: They have the privilege of recommendation, but no power of decision. This doesn’t mean you won’t grow your circle of influence, gain comfort with more responsibilities, and eventually manage and be accountable for your fair share of the business growth and success;
  • Uncover the unknown unknowns. Resolutely adopt an experimentation culture and learn the true meaning of “Pilot Project.” Manage scope, reduce risks, confirm potential benefits, increases velocity, and evangelize change at every step of the way.

Utopia or Nirvana? It will be yours to decide! I hope you will embark with me on this journey to a new, resolutely and radically different way of doing analytics. Please, use Medium’s ability to highlight & comment to share your thoughts, whether you agree or not.

Stéphane Hamel, MBA, OMCP is a strategic advisor, pre-seed investor, analyst, speaker, teacher with a keen interest for privacy and ethical data use in a marketing context.

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Image credit: Sébastien Girard