Thursday, March 1, 2012

Communication, Leadership and Analytics

In the recent series on the future of sports analytics that I coauthored with University of San Francisco Professor Vijay Mehrotra (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) we wrote about the importance of communication and leadership. The importance of communication and leadership in the success of an analytics program was made abundantly clear through the results the Sports Analytics Use Survey that I conducted over the last several months. 27 individuals representing teams from the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), and the English Premiership League (EPL), answered questions on their teams use of sports analytics. The survey provided significant insight into how teams are utilizing analytics and some of the problems that they are running into. It also provided an interesting example when two executives from the same team answered the survey. One of the executives was in the personnel department and the other was in the information technology (IT) department. This is a team that has clearly made some investment in analytics, and the personnel executive was clearly interested in how sports analytics could help his team gain a competitive advantage. 

An examination of the responses from these two individuals demonstrated that, even teams that are interested in developing an analytics program can end up not fully leveraging their investment if the lines of communication between analysts and decision makers are not wide open. These two executives, working for the same, relatively small organization had radically different views of the state of their team’s analytics program. The table below contains some of their responses and the conflicts are obvious. The two executives had very different ideas about how data is used and accessed within the organization.

 Either the IT executive was wildly optimistic about the state of the team’s use of analytics, and/or the personnel executive was simply unaware of the capabilities of the team. In either case though, what is clear is that integration of the analytics program into decision making was not happening. The team had not leveraged their analytic investment into a competitive advantage in part because, as these responses demonstrate, these two areas of the organization did not communicate. Lack of communication around basic concepts such as whether quantitative information has had a significant impact on the decision making process, indicates that the organization did not have a clear plan for how to utilize the tool of analytics. This was made very clear by their responses to the statement: “Your analytical capabilities are stronger than your competitor's.” The personnel executive answered “Somewhat disagree” while the IT executive answered “Strongly agree”. This extreme difference in opinion is a symptom of missed opportunities to gain a competitive advantage.

No matter how insightful or complex analysis is, it is totally wasted if it is not communicated effectively and in line with a clear analytics plan established by leadership.

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