Data analyst for a construction company: where to look?

The general manager of a local builder wanted my advice the other morning — how to find a data analyst. I’m sure a lot of small-business managers would like to know, too.

“I don’t know what I don’t know,” he says, “but I know that I don’t know.” He’s been trying to convince the boss that they had to see what the pile of data that had accumulated over the years could tell them.

But the boss thought that between them they knew enough. They’ve been running the businss for so long that much of the management is by intuition. “We self-correct by feel.”

Finally, the boss agreed. One question motivated him: where to economize after all the obvious cuts have been made.

Though the company has survived the Great Recession so far by cutting expenses, they still have to cut a little bit more. They’re now looking for finer, hidden expense. Only good analysis can reveal that.

The company is too small to hire a pro, and the manager and owner are too busy to learn to do it themselves.

Above all, says the manager, the analyst has to know the Bay Area construction industry. For example, no analyst can be shocked by the high prices — such as a $370,000 backyard house. Here that’s nothing fancy, just a nice hut. The analyst should also a feel for the industry’s data and measures.

I think the ideal is an out-of-work tradesman. There are lots of smart guys who drifted into the trade as young men and couldn’t leave until they were forced out. Some may be good at math, have a feel for statistics, and approach questions analytically.

I say start with the industry knowledge, then go down my list of top analysts’s traits.


  1. Joe Haris says:

    Not sure I agree with your premise that industry experience is the best starting point.

    I suspect that a fresh perspective by someone with analysis experience and a willingness to ask stupid questions would generate far better insights.

    I often hear businesses talk about how unique they are or their industry is but at the end of the day all business is about selling _something_ for more than it costs to produce it. The jargon may change but numbers are numbers.


  2. Ted Cuzzillo says:

    Thanks for your comment, Joe. A fresh perspective is good, but not a naive one. There’s a lot to know about the construction business, this guy tells me. What may provoke questions to a novice is often ordinary.

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