In response to a question from a reader, Avinash Kaushik wrote an article recently on web analytics consulting and how to create a web analytics project framework.
Although the article was primarily written for consultants, it could apply equally well to anyone responsible for a web analytics project.
Kaushik’s framework divides web analytics projects into three phases:
- Data Reporting (DR) – The DR phase configures standard and custom reports and creates a mechanism for them to be produced and distributed on a regular basis.
- Data Analysis (DA) – The DA phase digs into the data and finds the insights that enable new decisions and actions to improve business results.
Kaushik’s article is well-worth reading. It not only identifies the different components of a web analytics project, it also shows how to qualify a project in terms of skill sets needed, the costs to plan for, and the results you can expect.
Many web analytics project issues are management-related, not technical
As always, Kaushik’s post attracted a lot of comments. In this case, most of the comments were not about the phases of a web analytics project.
Most of the comments focused on issues related to the client, the business, and change management. They included questions about clients who don’t know what’s possible, clients who don’t know what they want, and clients who don’t want to take action on the insights the data reveals.
As Barbara Frontera said:
Clients want to be data driven until “the data tells them something they don’t want to hear (“This has always worked just fine”). Or until it indicates a change they don’t want to make (“We don’t want to change that, we want to fix this”). Or until it gets hard (“Do you know how much work/money that would entail?”).
These are common issues with consulting projects. Consultants and clients in every industry struggle with project scope, adoption of results, and organizational change management.
Have you experienced these fatal flaws in your web analytics projects?
In his book High-Impact Consulting, Robert H. Schaffer identifies five fatal flaws that consultants and client experience with projects:
Flaw #1: Project defined in terms of consultant’s deliverables.
Consulting projects are defined in terms of the work the consultant will do and the “products” the consultant will deliver, but not in terms of specific client results to be achieved.
In web analytics, the project often consists of tagging the site and preparing standard reports. Or doing analysis and then “creating a Web Analytic Report.” Any alternative is stymied because “often clients don’t even know what they want or what is possible.”
Flaw #2: Project scope ignores client readiness.
Project scope is determined mainly by the subject to be studied or the problem to be solved, with little regard for the client’s readiness for change.
“Clients don’t know how insights in data, analytics, and actions can improve their business. Even when we propose to set goals or do an A/B test, they are lost.”
Flaw #3: Grandiose solutions.
Projects aim for one big solution rather than incremental successes.
We have a tendency in Data Capture to spend too long tagging a site before we do any analysis or help the client to see results. Kaushik observes “Today here is the reality: Tag for 18 months. Do some data puking in the interim. Realize every stakeholder has changed in 18 months, so has the business. Go back for 18 more months of Data Capture.”
Flaw #4: Hand-Offs back and forth.
Projects entail a sharp division of responsibility between client and consultant; there is little sense of partnership between them.
Kaushik: “In my experience Clients don’t engage deeply with Analytics Consultants at an optimal level because they/we fail to appreciate the value/impact.”
Flaw #5: Labor-Intensive use of consultants.
Projects make labor-intensive use of consultants, instead of leveraged use.
Once again, too many people spend too much time tagging the entire site before helping the client to realize significant benefits from the investment.
Mobilize organizational change; reverse the fatal flaws
The conventional consulting paradigm is not designed to help clients make the changes that will lead to organizational success. To become more data-driven, clients and their consultants have to reverse the fatal flaws of conventional consulting.
Schaffer has identified five success factors that are associated with organizations that adopt his high-impact paradigm. These projects are “designed to exploit the untapped capabilities of the client.”
Success Factor #1: Every project defined in terms of client results
High-impact projects are defined in terms of measurable client results that client and consultant agree to achieve together.
Instead of defining the project in terms of reporting and analysis to be done, the client and consultant define the project in terms of results the client needs to achieve – improvements in visitors to the website, leads for the sales force, or profitable revenue.
Success Factor #2: Projects designed to match client motivation and capability
To ensure success, it is essential that the client and consultant, at the earliest possible moment, assess what kinds of changes the client organization is likely to be ready, willing, and able to carry out.
Before engaging an analytics consultant, have a conversation with the consultant about what recommendations might come out of the project. Then you will have the information you need to consider what your organization might have to do in order to benefit from the consultant’s work. Without this information, the project is a “real Las Vegas crap shoot.”
Success Factor #3: Divide larger projects into rapid-cycle sub-projects.
The faster a project gets finished, the more likely it is to deliver the desired results.
Projects that drag on for months tend to fail simply because the world changes around it. Key players change responsibilities, priorities are adjusted, market demands shift. Instead, carve off some small sub-projects. Each of these smaller projects should yield results in five or six weeks.
Success Factor #4: Develop a working partnership between client and consultant.
Once a consulting project aims at achieving some targeted, measurable improvements in a relatively short period of time, the conventional consulting project’s back-and-forth hand-offs of responsibility disappear because they simply won’t work.
If consultant and client are working on small, targeted projects that match the organizations ability to implement, you are much more likely to work together to achieve these results. Each new set of analytics insights informs the organization how it wants to take action. Taking action immediately reveals what new analysis needs to be done.
Success Factor #5: Leverage Consulting Inputs.
Consulting projects aimed at rapid-cycle, measurable results with the active participation of the client require far fewer consulting hours than the typical labor-intensive conventional project.
With more emphasis on results and less on extensive data capture, reporting, and analysis, the organization accomplishes much more with the analysis the consultant provides. The client organization feels more ownership of the project.
High-impact consulting reverses all the five fatal flaws of conventional consulting. It is an entirely different way of approaching the use of consultants from what is conventionally practiced.
What do you think? Can you picture the High Impact Consulting framework being useful for a web analytics project?