internal eventsFollowing Tony’s critique of mega-conference events, I was fortunate enough this week to join a client, at one of their internal events.

It was a ‘Data & Analytics Seminar’, focused on increasing knowledge and sharing best practice. Attendees came mainly from Analytics or BI roles, but included a range of experience and technical verses business focus.

There was so much to praise about this event. Held in a modern, innovation centre (think Google-esque environment), it was relaxed, interactive and included a good mixed diet. On the agenda were internal & external speakers, as well as content that ranged from very technical to strategic or people-focussed.

So, to encourage all Analytics leaders to take a leaf out of their book, without breaching any confidences, let me share my reflections.

Come together around a common challenge

It was helpful at the beginning of this two-day ‘seminar‘ to have leaders  sharing their progress on both Strategy and collaboration. I know how much effort it has taken to achieve some of what was presented in only a few slides, but it told a compelling story.

As an FS firm keen to increase their data & analytics capability (which is true of most), they shared the results of several workshops. As I have shared previously, in advice on creating a strategy & making the case for further investment, the work I’ve helped this client with has included:

  1. Understanding what you have already & who is doing what (Show & Tell workshops can really help uncover gems & join up experts who’ve never met)
  2. Drawing a clear vision (Visual workshops can help different teams express ‘the art of the possible‘ for their businesses)
  3. Identifying benefits (Structured thinking sessions, including the use of DeBono’s Thinking Hats, can help identify different categories of benefits)
  4. Being realistic about barriers (Collaborative workshops with all the required expertise can really help uncover local & systemic problems)
  5. Maturity Frameworks & Capability Gaps (There is not yet one generally accepted Maturity Framework for Analytics, but creating one & identifying gaps helps clients)
  6. Costing closing priority Gaps (local work, in partnership between business & IT teams, can help identify the most important investments to get started)

Sharing these outputs, as well as key groups established to share what is being done across teams & best practice for all, helps include everyone.

Complement internal expertise with an external perspective

The next aspect that worked well in this event was the combination of internal & external expertise. Seasoning the diet of internal information sharing with some external presentations can really help. Outsiders need to realise they are not here to sell, and everyone played along on this occasion.

Balance is the key here. I have known other businesses either focus too much on internal presentations or too much on external. The former approach has a greater risk of ‘group-think‘ and boring those who are well-connected internally. The latter approach has a greater risk of unrealistic expectations or devaluing internal experts (who then go off & act in isolation).

Here there was a good balance of both perspectives, as well as different types of both. Some speakers were just expert on their specific data, regulations or technology. Others has helpfully broad views & could share lessons from other businesses or even global perspectives on data & technology developments.

The informal staging of this event also created a level playing field where everyone participated, asked questions and listened – irrespective of seniority or membership. It helped bring out a number of key challenges & opportunities, either through questions at the end of each session or chats during breaks. A good example for other internal events.

A balanced diet: Mix the depth & breadth, to keep it tasty

The agenda for this session was a really well conceived approach, by the internal host. Following the initial session I mentioned above, as well as mixing internal and external voices, the breadth and depth were covered.

In terms of breadth, a number of topics of interest to our readers were covered:

As you can see, plenty to get your teeth into & help avoid myopic ‘blind spots‘ in certain roles. It also helped to bring IT & business roles, as well as practitioners and leaders together.

In terms of depth, this variety included:

  • Live demo of R, SparklyR (better link to call Apache Spark managed data) & Shiny (plus associated useful packages)
  • Walkthrough of benefits of R language, with simple coding examples to get jobs done
  • Overview of large Data Warehouse, metadata sources & plans for future development
  • Practical projects with business results
  • Collaboration with external data provider (who shared how others also used data)
  • Advice from experience (internal & external experts)
  • Strategy overviews & best practice tips

For any other leaders who feel inspired to organise such an Analytics ‘coming together‘ within their corporation, I’d encourage taking such a diverse approach.

Keeping the human touch – analysts are people too

If all the above sounds rather earnest, it was also great fun. Internal events can still be flexible and humane.

All good leaders remember that the people they work with are holistic human beings and not just caricatures of ‘bearded geeks who don’t get out much‘. This event kept that human and approachable spirit throughout.

Role-modelled by our host & his team, it’s the little things that count here. The humour & (for UK audiences) self-deprecation. The inclusion of regular breaks, with time & space to chat with one another comfortably. Plus the flexibility to change agenda order when needed, as well as thanking everyone for their participation.

In addition, when it became apparent that people would value a coffee at lunchtime (with caterers only providing water), the host just bought coffees in. It is that sort of behaviour (plus I owe him a round in the pub), that shows people orientation. For any event, stay approachable, consider your audience & focus on people’s whole needs.

There was a good buzz around this event & everyone left speaking well of it (including the external speakers). That is down to the well designed agenda, but it is as much down to the human warmth and culture role modelled there.

Are you ready for your internal events?

What about you & your business? Do you run internal events? Are there data or analytics experts in several different teams, possibly spread across different functions, businesses, cities or nations? There could be tremendous value in bringing them together, as well as a few carefully picked external speakers.

I’d at least suggest getting together with a few others who are passionate about insight/analytics & discussing the idea. If you can collaborate to make it happen, that will get you off on the right footing to start with.