On Analytics Failures, Fit, and Finding Value

Recently, I sat down with Manuel Coello, Senior Director of Data Analytics at CVS Health, for a conversation about analytics, transformation, and positive team dynamics. Manuel shared tips on what skills to focus on when you're trying to demonstrate value to your organization, unique ways to engage your team, and how to get sponsorship for your analytics initiatives.

Here, you’ll find a snapshot from the conversation where Manuel shares some of his personal failures and how they drove him to find true value.


AYX: If you could point to any sort of failure that you've had — I know that might be kind of a tough question but I'm curious to know if you've ever tried something and it didn't quite work out. What was the thing that you tried out? And how did you pivot and maybe turn it into a success?

Manuel: Boy, I have many! I have had so many failures especially early in my career. The biggest one I can point out — and it's still haunting me — is I really didn't understand the concept of value and that really hurt me in many different ways. Let me ask you, who defines value?

AYX: The end-user.

Manuel: Exactly. You got it. The end-user or the person that we're doing the analytics for defines the value. I was too hung up with the data or with the technology or how am I going to do these resources. The focus was never the value. And because of that, I did a lot of rework. I presented a lot of things that they didn't want. A lot of things I did that they were not used because I was always missing the mark. Yeah, sometimes I got it right but I wasn't a consistent performer because I didn't understand the value. And because I didn't understand the value, I honestly didn't get the recognition that I thought I deserved because I was just not generating the value.

So halfway through I learned my lesson because I wasn't promoted. I was bypassed for a promotion and that really hurt me. And that was the wake up to say, "Okay. I need to learn what is meaningful for the people that are receiving — the consumers of my analytics. And I became very obsessive to understanding, "Why are we doing? What are you trying to do?" And in some cases, I was able to deliver things that they didn't know they needed. But because I understood the value, I was delivering something they didn't ask for but they needed. They just didn't know that they needed it because I understood the value. The concept of value. And a lot of iterations happened based on that concept of the value.

The other kind of big failure that I had, and maybe it's linked with the value, is the delivery. When you finish something there are many ways that you deliver your work product. You can just send an email or you can have a conference call or you can put a PowerPoint presentation together. So I wasn't really putting too much effort in the package. Somehow I thought that the work I performed was good enough and that was sufficient. So when I shared it with them, whoever was the consumer, the focus wasn't on the value that they wanted. The focus was in all the hard work that I did and look how much work I put together. And look what I did. So I lost my audience in many different deliverables because I was focused on my own work. And then I realized, "You know what? These people don't care what I did. They only care about the piece of information that they are asking for that will generate the value. Those outliers, those insights, the confirmation of the hypothesis." Whatever I was doing the analytics for. And once I understood the value of what they were receiving it was so easy to put everything together. So I got the analysis, I interpreted it, I can identify the value, and I was able to put it in one page in PowerPoint. Now I was just in colors and visuals and very simplistic. In a very simplistic way, "Hey, this is what I found." And based on that kind of delivery the magic happened. Actions were taken, a lot of people saying how impactful the work was that we did. And everything was kind of derived from the value.

The other thing that happened — I'm still kind of going back linking to the value was because I identified the value I start sharing all the work that I did. All the value that I was about to deliver. So all of us have to justify our goals every year. Our performance. So that was easy to write because I was able to identify the value. And so I think everything kind of boils down to understanding the value and once you understand the value can you adjust the work that you do to meet that value? Can you communicate and share all the value that you are generating? And can you package it in a way that the end-user will understand in a very simplistic way?

“It's just fascinating how everyone is using analytics for their own purpose to be more effective and create more value.

Manuel Coello, Senior Director of Data Analytics at CVS Health

AYX: What skills does it take to be successful in analytics?

Manuel: Well, the first one is intellectual curiosity. You have to be curious. If you're not curious I don't think you should be in analytics. If you don't have this thrill of digging into the data, the self-exploration, the discovery approach, and be curious of why things happen you may not belong in analytics.

The second one, the can-do attitude. Everything that we do is difficult. We're going to have challenges pretty much in everything. In everything that we do. We don't do easy. We do difficult. All the projects that we do are difficult. If they're easy we typically decline them and ask the users to do it themselves. So everything we do is very complex. And having the can-do attitude, whatever it takes to do it, that's very important.

The third one, having the cultural fit. Somebody who enjoys analytics and collaborates and can be open to the diversity of thoughts. Using my team [for example], we're about 14 people, 10 here in Hartford, Connecticut, and four in India, and we get along very well. And we're very different. I always call it a nice dysfunctional family. Different backgrounds. Some are math backgrounds, economic backgrounds, we have a bunch of CPAs, we have different ages, some people are out of school, some people already have 10-plus years in the industry. It is amazing how nicely we complement each other. So somebody that plays nice, that is open to points of view.

And the fourth one is having the speed. Everything that we do is on a timeline, so having that kind of aggressiveness, being hostile to some of the tasks, that is very important for us. Somebody that is very focused, that can escalate things quickly, that can collaborate early on. And finally, of course, create value — understand why we do things.


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