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Analytics Magazine

Inside Story: Failure to communicate

May/June 2011


Peter Horner, editor

When confronted with complex business analytics problems that beg for mathematical modeling, the reactive first response is, “Show me the data.” However, based on one of the recurring themes that came out of the recent INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research held in Chicago, the proper first response is, “Tell me about your business.”

After all, how can you solve someone’s business problem if you don’t first thoroughly understand their business and all of the behind-the-scenes issues, constraints and personality conflicts that will ultimately — and perhaps surprisingly — impact the outcome of the project and implementation of the solution?

“Expert interviewing,” as it’s sometimes referred to, is the unappreciated yet critical art of ascertaining client information up front that will often determine the success or failure of an analytics project. Who hasn’t had a promising project and/or elegant solution scuttled or never applied because someone forgot to ask the right questions early on?

I was reminded of this basic tenet of analytical problem-solving on my way home from the Chicago conference. A fellow attendee and I, over lunch, determined that we both had 7 p.m. flights home that evening. We agreed to share a taxi to the airport, a more efficient mode of transportation and a means of saving us both a few bucks. We met in the hotel lobby at the appointed hour as planned, climbed into a taxi, and the driver asked where we were going. I said, “Midway,” at the exact moment my fellow attendee said, “O’Hare.”

We had never asked each other during our initial conversation which airport we were flying from. We scrambled out of the taxi and looked around for other options, our original “efficient” plan doomed because of a classic “failure to communicate.”

By the way, the conference was terrific, from UPS Vice President Chuck Holland’s powerful opening plenary to the Oscar-like Edelman Award gala. See you at the 2012 event April 15-17 in Huntington Beach, Calif.



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