As the concept of becoming data driven embeds more and more into business operations, and more and more information systems are brought online, one of the central questions which is asked by CEO’s and executives across the world is - ‘What kind of person, team or contractor should we employ to achieve what we need?’
Getting the right people involved in data driven business is the primary issue of the decade, with businesses rising and falling on the quality, diversity and integrity of those they entrust with their data.
In this post I want to share my observations on what I believe to be the top five defining characteristics of excellent Data Driven Teams. Teams of this nature create enormous competitive advantage for their organisations, finding new ways to increase efficiency and delivering decision quality information to decision makers. As a side benefit, they are often able to help businesses execute quickly on new market opportunities, creating a positive feedback cycle for all involved.
Getting the right people involved in data driven business is the primary issue of the decade!
#1 Passionate About the Business
Every single successful analytics team I’ve ever met has exhibited this characteristic. It’s not just about the way they dress or talk, or the lunches they have or perks they enjoy - there’s a buzz around them. When you hear them talk about their company and the intimate details about how the organisation works and how they found this AMAZING insight when they combined some different data sources, you walk away feeling inspired.
A great example of this is a post I recently read by the Air BnB team, talking about migrating their data. I’m not going to expand on the details of what they did (although it was impressive) but what I noticed is how passionate they were about their organisation. I could feel the excitement of the challenge oozing out of them, leaping out from the page. Yes, there was some technical details in the post, and yes, the challenge they faced was significant, but it was clear that they loved what they were doing and were determined to succeed.
This kind of passion is what separates organisations who do data because they’ve been told what a great idea it is from those organisations which see the transformational benefits it brings. For me, I was so inspired by the Air BnB post I actually applied for a job there!
#2 Know technology
The second defining characteristic of an excellent Data Driven Team is a fundamental commitment to becoming technical experts in their field. This is critical.
The Information Age is fast gathering pace, and every day there are new methods being released to market. Even over the past couple of years there has been the rise of No SQL database infrastructure, the introduction of Meteor, a continuing development in the thoughts and principles of REST based web access, big data analytics like Hadoop and so on. This is not to mention the incredible developments in cybersecurity including user behaviour analysis, encryption and the growing rise of mobile interaction.
For many organisations this constant barrage of technologies appears to be simply a very expensive and continuing hobby for a group of people who like doing interesting things with computers. In truth, each of these new technologies, architectures, ideas and concepts come with their own advantages and disadvantages and an excellent Data Driven Team will be able to explain this.
As time goes on, this defining characteristic will be clearly felt across the organisation as information becomes more timely, more accurate and more in depth. It will revolutionise the way you see data and create depth to your activity.
#3 Exercise Leadership at All Levels
Leadership is defined by John C Maxwell as
Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.
It is this ability to influence those around which is a defining characteristic of excellent Data Driven Teams. As organisations build effective informations systems and begin to dive deep into what it’s telling them, there comes a point where the data needs to be translated from geek language into decision maker language. Only excellent data analysts and scientists can make this link, figuring out the most effective graphs, plots and emails to send to the right people.
It goes deeper than this though. Understanding the right data almost invariably leads to tradeoffs between efficiency and effectiveness, often related to timeliness. Due to the nature of data analytics, these tradeoffs typically exist in the realm of extremely technical details, which means that only technical experts can really make a decision.
When this defining characteristic is missing, teams become paralysed by inaction and unable to present their case to the organisation for further action. The impact of this will not be felt immediately, but over time information quality will diminish and the usefulness of the analytics team to building competitive advantage will disappear.
#4 Able to Focus on the Big Picture
Many IT teams attempt to solve every individual issue on a case by case basis, never taking the time to look at the broader issues being raised. As a result, the teams end up with an increasing burden of supportability for individual solutions, effectively parcelling out their time on issues which of only minimal benefit to the broader organisations.
In contrast, one of the defining characteristics of excellent Data Driven Teams is the ability to contribute to the larger organisational goals. This means being able to assess the distinction between smaller issues with large implications and larger issues which have individual implications. Excellent teams often spend a lot of their time on whiteboards and in meeting rooms plotting data flows and implications, circling back to users and how to provide analytics - but always with the larger picture in mind. As a consequence the entire organisation benefits as information flows are streamlined and analytics steadily improved.
Ironically, when this is done correctly, the change within the organisation so subtle it’s often missed. Individuals end up happier and more motivated as they are being provided relevant data and decision makers at all levels feel more supported by the data they are being given - but often the actual Data Driven Teams fade into the background. Long term the organisation will streak ahead of the competition, creating an almost unbeatable competitive advantage.
#5 Team Players
Finally, excellent Data Driven Teams are defined by their ability to play as a team within a larger organisation. They are generally the first to get involved in a new idea or brainstorm, looking at ways to help, rather than hinder. They seek opportunities to get involved in departments and with staff so they can better understand requirements. And most importantly of all they realise that in many cases they are only one aspect of the broader organisation.
These kind of teams are an absolute pleasure to work with. They get the point. They want to help. They are incredibly invested in the organisation and they really want the company to succeed. For the organisation, it’s of huge benefit as they find new and better ways to improve information flows and analysis, providing a continuing competitive advantage. Returning to my example of the Air BnB data team, these kinds of teams are there to serve their organisation and take the abstract and mundane and make it amazingly relevant.
The end result of these defining characteristics are teams who provide incredible benefit to their organisation. They understand the business and care deeply about it, working hard help it succeed and grow. As new technologies come in they will continue to grow their organisations data driven capabilities and create enormous competitive advantage.
Take the time to invest in building your team, as they will become your single greatest advantage in a fast moving time in history!!!
As always, if you like what I'm saying add me on social media - I'd love to hear your comments!
I love analysing data. I've done it for nearly 10 years now in various shapes and forms, and for me it's an endless world of wonder. There's nothing else I'd rather be doing!