Transforming Data Analysts from Builders to Architects

02/13/2024 Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Transforming Data Analysts from Builders to Architects

Every quarter I like to present to my team the progress we have made in the last quarter (e.g. accomplishments, goal updates, and areas of improvement), along with a section dedicated to team development themes that will be a focus throughout the year. It has historically been well received and serves as a barometer of the progress we are making toward improving as a whole. The team development theme for this year is moving from a builder mindset to an architect mindset, a big bet that captures the idea of moving from being operators who only serve to support the needs of other teams to driving the analytical agenda and collaborating with other teams to deliver optimal strategic and tactical decisions using data.

Cultural Change

This theme is rooted in a cultural change I led in the past year by moving our organization from a dashboard-by-default to an analysis-by-default data culture. A change inspired by Robert Yi’s article introducing this topic and was a rallying cry to deliver more value to our organization and our clients with insights and actionable data analysis rather than building dashboards. We were able to complete this transformation by the end of last year, involving a BI tool migration and data empowerment for the whole organization.

One of the biggest benefits of this change to the analysts was the amount of time and resources regained by the analysts to focus on work that taps into our unique skillset, which is our understanding of data and ability to tell stories with that data. However, even though there would be less of a focus on dashboard work, it wasn’t without the challenge of breaking free from familiarity bias and relying on dashboard work to fill in the regained time. To make a complete break from the past we needed a mindset change. One that captured the differences in the new job qualities and drove home the need for self-leadership to successfully deliver the change. The analogy I used to capture this transformation is with the world of construction and the differences between builders and architects.


Builders are at the heart of construction and are the folks who take an idea and turn it into the finished product. Everything from the foundation to putting on the roof, fit within this role’s jurisdiction. In data analyst terms, this can be viewed as technical work involving anything from data ingestion to quality assurance to the final touches on a dashboard. There are a wide range of responsibilities and activities directed to analysts by other teams with little questioning, and in some cases requiring solutions that don’t fit the traditional job description or skillset of an analyst. If it has to do with data, then the assumption is that the analyst can and should be able to do it.

There is value in being malleable in this position as naturally, the role has generalist qualities, but leaning on the perception of an analyst being a data generalist can limit and waste the talent, skills, and resources of a data analyst. Data analysts excel when pursuing activities that match their expertise in understanding data, pattern recognition, and convey a message with data that allows an individual or team to take action. Activities with the requirements of creative freedom and ownership. This means that you should leave the builder work to those better suited to bring value to the organization like the specialized positions of data engineer and business intelligence developer.


Architects are creative and skillful storytellers who pay attention to details and are experts in problem-solving throughout the design process from ideation to the blueprints. They are also mediators to clients, builders, and the various parties in between. On the surface, many may not see the connection between the creative characteristics of an architect and the quantitative-minded role of the data analyst, but analysts embody all of the characteristics listed. Just like an architect, analysts gather information and investigate the various parties’ needs for the request. Once gathered, they compile the problem into a structured design prompt and start to ideate toward a solution by exploring various data points and analyzing the trends present in the data. This, “drawing the blueprint” process, requires an analyst to have expertise in various tools to make careful considerations in designing a solution. It could include, navigating a data warehouse for the right information, writing a complex SQL query to confidently arrive at an answer, and utilizing creative storytelling tools to convey the story in a way that will resonate with the audience.

From Builders to Architects

Making the cultural transition from builders to architects is a challenging one. It takes time, self-leadership, and champions across leadership to ensure it happens. There is also the task of balancing the change with the daily demands of a data analyst who is typically strapped with time and resources. What this means is that there is a lot of responsibility placed on the data leader to make sure the right communication, activities, and ownership are happening to see this transition to completion.

It is a lot of weight to carry, but when you think about the benefits of turning analysts into “architects”, it is worth carrying. You will be able to place ownership of the full process in the hands of the expert rather than those who are not the best suited given the scrutiny and consideration that needs to go into handling proper data requests and analysis. Control that leads to more justification and debate around inbound requests, a focus on maximizing the value of the abundance of data likely collected and stored, and a valuable set of eyes on all of the insights work being conducted with analysis to add a perspective to deliver optimal decisions. The result is the elimination of work that doesn’t support the growth or goals of the organization and an increase in the focus on collaborative problem-solving efforts. Capturing what analysts do best and delivering the ultimate value they can provide to an organization.

From Analogies to Mental Models

The builder-to-architect analogy is just the starting point of a larger mental model that I hope to develop during the year. Analogies like this one deliver value by being simple, visual, and easily understood. It is also general enough to be easily applied to any organization facing similar challenges. However, it only serves as a memorable comparison to get your point across. The real leg work is experimenting with activities to figure out what helps you achieve this desired outcome and then finding the common thread between these activities that can be put into a mental model that is reproducible and understandable to change the DNA of the culture.

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