Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Researcher or practitioner?

I was going through my backlog of emails and blogs and noticed a very interesting article from Human Factors International about the difference between the researcher approach and the practitioner approach to problem solving. Here's what I found most interesting and readily applicable to web analytics.

Seek for solutions

Clients are looking for solutions. Simple. While the details are important, and knowledge of (and benefits of) various analysis methods are core skills or a web analyst, you should convey the findings - better yet, the solution - rather than the analysis leading to it.

Key skills of a web analytics practitioner

HFI cites a study where key skills of a UX practitioners (designers) were identified. I took the liberty to slightly modify them so they can be applied to the field of web analytics:
  • Effective practitioners need to be able to identify, diagnose and execute a correct solution quickly.
  • Practitioners need to know which methods and tools are out there and when to apply which, and just do it.
  • Practitioners should be able to articulate the tradeoffs for favoring a specific method based on the business perspective. This means balancing the quality of the data against constraints like:
    • How much will the various approaches cost to deploy?
    • Which is fastest given our current state?
    • Which is the most powerful but least expensive data we can get to make the case (e.g., quantitative, qualitative)
  • Practitioners need to provide concrete recommendations, not problems and findings. And the earlier the recommendations come, the better. Here, we want to highlight the notion of "continuous improvement".
  • Conversely, practitioners need to set up and provide metrics on how a process or interface fares over subsequent updates and releases. That is the core concept of testing.

Business acumen

The HFI article concludes with this:
Practitioners need to sell in business terms. They suggest that practitioners (and training programs) should hone negotiation and audience monitoring skills, and the ability to recognize when there is a gap between what is being presented and what the audience is seeking. After all, the business wants answers: What do we do? How to do it? What is the projected business impact (ROI) of making such changes? They aren't always as interested in the method and data that lead up to that solution.
The complete HFI newsletter is available online, along with lots and lots of other insightful material.