Anyone with two or more children knows about sibling competition. I have an older brother, so I know what it's like growing up in the shadow of someone who came before me. And even though I'm more charming and intelligent than he is, he came first. So, I'm always regarded as the little brother, even forty years later. The same thing happens in organizations.
Unless you're a brand new organization, or you're just forming your enterprise data strategy, your data science team will be the little brother to the data warehouse group. With this in mind, you must be sensitive to the dynamic between these two groups - with specific attention on the incumbents. All too often I see leaders regale with great pomp and circumstance in honor of their new data scientists, while inadvertently dismissing the data professionals that run their organization today. Not only is this not nice, but consider this: the people you're shunning have the most power to shut down your new data science team.
Am I My Brother's Keeper?
This is difficult to detect, which is why it's so important that you understand how this works. Most likely the data warehouse group has no formal authority over the data science team and it would be career limiting for the leadership here to make a big noise. Therefore the strategy, whether intentional or not, will be more clandestine, and they will probably succeed.
It goes back to change management 101 and the burning platform. When you roll out a new big data strategy, one of the biggest challenges you'll face within the organization is answering this question, "Why do we need big data analytics right now?" If you cannot answer this question in a very compelling way, that has a direct impact on them, you won't have their commitment. The resistance will come in the form of complacency: "We're fine with what we have now." And they're fine because - the existing business intelligence and data warehouse team takes good care of them.
To affect change, complacency is a formidable adversary, and if you put the data warehouse group and the data science team in competition with each other, it's pretty easy for the data warehouse group to win this battle. They're the older brother. Everybody knows them already. They're embedded in all the existing workflows. Everything that comes out of the data science team will be compared to how the data warehouse group would do it. And the data warehouse group will find ways to marginalize what the data science team is doing, for the sake of their own survival.
A Blended ModelThe fix here is easy - just avoid an organizational structure that will put them in competition with each other. There's no good reason to create a data science team that sits out on its own; they should be integrated with the existing data professionals. I recommend blending the groups so there's no discernible difference between the old guard and the new guard. You'll then have an organization that supports a unified strategy of traditional and nouveau analytics.
That's not to say that reorganization isn't a good idea. This may be an opportunity to put your structure in alignment with your size and maturity, especially if you're facing a growth crisis. For instance, if your organization is large and weighed down by process and bureaucracy, it's time to decentralize. If this is timed with the birth of a new data science team, don't make the mistake of keeping the central data warehouse group where it is and locating the data science team members in the lines of business. This would not only put them in competition with each other, but it would still leave you with a monolithic data group to propagate more process and bureaucracy.
Instead, grow the existing data warehouse group with data scientists and analytic managers and spread the entire, unified analytic group into the lines of business while retaining only a small analytic center of excellence to support your new group. This eliminates competition between the groups and puts your organizational structure in alignment with your size and maturity.
In families and organizations, big brothers and sisters always have the upper hand. Unlike families however, you have a lot of control over whether or not there will be sibling rivalry within your organization. If you split the organizations apart, the incumbent data warehouse group will use its positioning and organizational leverage to ensure your data science team's efforts don't take root. Avoid internal competition by blending your analytic teams instead of separating them. If you're currently planning a party in honor of your new data science team, order more tables for the data warehouse group - the family's about to get bigger.
John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom.