Tools for improving structured thinking (for analysts)

Kunal Jain 26 Mar, 2019 • 4 min read

Tools for improving structured thinking (for analysts)

There are 4 ingredients required to make a good an awesome business analyst:

  1. Passion for Business Analytics
  2. Structured thinking
  3. Love for statistics and numbers
  4. Business domain  knowledge

awesome_business_analyst

We recently shared a few tips to train your mind on analytical thinking, the tactics and practices mentioned there improve your number crunching abilities and help you apply analytical thinking in day to day activities. Today, I am going to share a few tools and exercises I use for improving structured thinking.

 

[stextbox id = “section”]   What is structured thinking?[/stextbox]

Structured thinking is a process of putting a framework to an unstructured problem. Having a structure not only helps an analyst understand the problem at a macro level, it also helps by identifying areas which require deeper understanding.

I had written an article on how structured thinking can help an analyst by reducing iterations and turn around time on projects. Today I’ll share some tools and practices which have helped me immensely in improving my structured thinking.

 

[stextbox id = “section”]   Tools / Exercises for improving structured thinking:[/stextbox]

Following are some of the best practices I have used and applied for better structured thinking. I am sharing simple tools rather than the most sophisticated mind map software out there. Idea is to get you started on this habit of structured thinking. Once you are used to the process, you can explore advanced tools and software:

 

[stextbox id = “section”]   1. Layout a framework on paper before looking / creating your datasets:[/stextbox]

If there is only one takeaway you want to carry from this article, it should be this. As a practice, you should spend 1 – 2 hours of distraction free time (no emails, messages and phone calls!) just laying out the structure, possible hypothesis, story flow and a tentative business presentation. Here are a few pics of how I typically layout structure and story flow on paper (Business problem statement: Your Organization has observed increased credit risk in last few months. You need to analyze why this has happened and recommend next steps):

Putting framework on paper

Putting framework on paper

Here is how tentative story looks at this stage:

Tentative presentation flow

Tentative presentation flow

 

[stextbox id = “section”]   2. Use whiteboards for brainstorming (again before touching the data):[/stextbox]

Typically, I do a session / meeting with stakeholders laying out all possible hypothesis and action items after I have spent time laying out things on paper. Call all stakeholders, layout discussion for them, make sure they are engaged (and not busy on smartphones), note thoughts on whiteboard and capture all the thoughts in the framework we created on paper (before this brainstorming).

By end of this brainstorming, you should have a clear framework agreed and discussed with stakeholders.

 

[stextbox id = “section”]   3. Practice back of the envelope calculations (anywhere and everywhere):[/stextbox]

This is the tool I use the most. Any business you come across (e-Commerce websites to the laundry service you might be using), try and chalk out their business model in your mind. Some of the questions you can use to get yourself started are:

  • What would be the revenues this business might be making?
  • How many customers are they touching? Repeat customers? Loyalty scheme?
  • What would be the cost structure?
  • How has the business scaled up / down in last few months / years?

Perform all these calculations at back of your mind (and not on paper). Layout a structure in your mind first, then answer these questions and come up with answers. A side benefit of doing this is that you improve number crunching abilities as well.

 

[stextbox id = “section”]   4. Usage of a note / document to conduct meetings / discussions:[/stextbox]

This is one of the tricks one of my mentors used to enforce on his team. As a rule, he did not look at any powerpoint presentation. For doing any discussion with him, you were enforced to create a note explaining the problem and the solution, send it to him before hand and then he would get involved in discussion. I think (am not completely sure), a similar practice is followed in Amazon for all meetings with Jeff Bezos.

If you have not tried this before, give it a shot. You will realize the amount of clarity which comes by preparing a simple note!

 

These tools and tricks have served me well over years. Do let me know in case you have any trick / tools, which have helped you become more structured in your thinking.

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Kunal Jain 26 Mar 2019

Kunal is a post graduate from IIT Bombay in Aerospace Engineering. He has spent more than 10 years in field of Data Science. His work experience ranges from mature markets like UK to a developing market like India. During this period he has lead teams of various sizes and has worked on various tools like SAS, SPSS, Qlikview, R, Python and Matlab.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Responses From Readers

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Deepesh Jain
Deepesh Jain 27 Feb, 2014

Nice article.I sincerely follow the first point illustrated above. I prefer to call this process flow- the process that I tend to deal with the problem and determining its causes and possible solutions and recommendations.

sawantika
sawantika 19 Mar, 2014

I really liked the article would like to read more on these articles

AJ Ferrara
AJ Ferrara 07 Aug, 2015

Great, practical information.

Nikk MS
Nikk MS 24 Aug, 2015

Good attemmpt ! Thanks for information

Aarshay Jain
Aarshay Jain 01 Dec, 2015

Very helpful indeed.But I think this requires a lot of business acumen. For instance, if I'm experienced in pharmaceutical industry and switch to solving a finance problem, I think it's going to be difficult.Nevertheless, I suppose there is no alternative to this. Unless there is a crisp understanding of the problem and domain, it's almost impossible to get the right solution. Totally agree with the approach.

Javier Alonso
Javier Alonso 17 Feb, 2016

Try as hard as you can to do not write a line of code until you do not have some whiteboards full of diagrams, ideas, notes and the like, and not after filling about 5o pages of the same stuff. Use CASE tools whenever possible. In a nutshell: think before you act. Once you begin, it's usually impossible to get back.

Hirendra
Hirendra 16 Mar, 2016

Hi Krunal,Thanks for such a informative article. recently I started using your website and I am in liking it too much.you guys are doing good Job.

Pranshu Jain
Pranshu Jain 17 Mar, 2017

That was something

Jingmiao
Jingmiao 20 Apr, 2017

Really helpful for us new beginners! Thks so much!

Ramakrishna
Ramakrishna 14 May, 2017

Good one really

Jean-Paul Dosher
Jean-Paul Dosher 09 Jan, 2022

This article still contemporary! Thank you so much!

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