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What are good questions to ask about new research?

That was the question I had as I revisited Keeping Up With the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding + Using Analytics.

Written by Tom Davenport and Jinho Kim, this is a book I read a few years ago when I led our company’s employee engagement survey strategy.

Working closely with our partner, Towers Watson, I was learning a lot. Yet I wanted to better understand the underlying analytics.

As I moved into a new role and have embarked on a learning project, I’ve revisited the book.

It includes a great list of questions that leaders should ask about analytics projects. They’re summarized from marketing and strategy professor Liam Fahey‘s article in Strategy and Leadership.

Here they are:

Overall questions:

  1. What business issue or need is the analytics work intended to inform? (This reminds me of the McKinsey & Company question, what problem are we solving for?)
  2. What are the core insights relevant to understanding the business issue and its context?
  3. How can I leverage these insights in the work I do?
  4. How do the insights affect decisions confronting us now?
  5. How do the insights help shape emerging and future decisions?

Questions for preliminary findings:

  1. What is surprising about this finding?
  2. Can further analysis be done to strengthen or refute the finding?
  3. Should others be involved to challenge this emerging finding?
  4. Is there a significant insight emerging here?
  5. If the thinking holds up, how should it affect my thinking on this or other topics or issues?

Questions for new insights:

  1. What is new to each insight?
  2. What was the old understanding?
  3. How significant is the difference?
  4. What is the reasoning or “argument” that connects the data set to the insight?

Questions after insights have been delivered:

  1. Who was/is involved in shaping the new understanding?
  2. How might they have influenced the outcome?
  3. What might be the principal difference across individuals or units?

In our ever busier and faster world, I also ask myself what the one key takeaway and implication is from the research. How would I summarize the insights in a sentence or a tweet?

In addition, I ask myself if I truly understand the work. If not, it’s time for more questions.

After seeing the movie The Big Short this weekend about the 2008-09 financial crisis, I wish more people had asked a lot more questions.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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