There’s no movie without supporting
actors

 I saw the movie, “Lincoln” on
the silver screen earlier this year. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis did a terrific
job playing our 16th President; however, without Sally Field, who played First
Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, I don’t think the movie would have done as well. And
although she didn’t win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year, the
fact that she was nominated demonstrates that a good number of people share my
opinion.

When most people think of the stars on their big data team,
they think about their data scientists. And normally, when you hear me talk
about the other important players on your big data team, I talk about leaders,
managers, and sometimes business analysts. However, there are some supporting
actors that make the whole team work better. When assembling your big data
team, it’s prudent to consider some of the less obvious players: the salesman,
the coach, the regulator, and the auditor.

The Salesman

The salesman on your team is the one responsible for making
sure the outputs of the team are well received by the organization. In the
traditional sense, this is called organizational change
management
(OCM); however, I like to think about it more in terms of
internal sales and marketing. In fact, when I’m not helping marketing leaders
increase the effectiveness of their marketing, I’m typically helping leaders
with OCM. That’s because, the same principles and techniques apply; they’re
just directed toward a different audience (i.e., marketing is external, change
management is internal).

The salesman on your big data team has the often daunting
and perilous job of getting the organization to appreciate a more scientific, analytic
approach to management and operations. The leader on your team is ultimately
accountable for this function; however, it makes sense to delegate this
responsibility to someone else. Typically the leader’s formal authority
prohibits honest and open communication from the troops. This is not good if
you want to affect change. For these reasons, have your salesman report to your
leader, not your manager. Having a change agent report to a manager is a
disaster because they don’t think alike.

The Coach

The coach on your team is the one responsible for keeping
your team happy and motivated. Traditionally, this is the responsibility of the
Human Resource (HR) department; however, the problem is this: how effective can
somebody be to a team if they’re an anonymous resource in another department?
To give you a clue on how to fill this role, they are typically people who
would otherwise be working in HR, or working as an internal or external
management consultant. They understand individual and group behavior and they
know how to run interventions to make the team work more efficiently. These are
the people who are facilitating all those “touchy-feely” sessions.

The coach on your big data team has the often
under-appreciated job of helping people get along. This is always difficult,
but it’s even more difficult with a group of opinionated data scientists. Coaches
have a behavioral background, similar to the salesman, but their focus is not
on the stakeholders – it’s on the team. Like the salesman, this is a function
that your leader is ultimately accountable for, so the same rules apply. It’s a
big mistake to have them report to the manager – they should report to the
leader.

The Regulator

The regulator on your team is the one who makes sure the
policies and processes are being followed. This doesn’t imply that you should
run a bureaucracy; however, execution without some sort of methodology is
chaos. Even agile practitioners are following a methodology (ironically, agile
methodologies are more stringent that non-agile methodologies). It’s also the
regulator’s job to be the devil’s advocate – to always challenge the accepted
direction of the team and see if there are any holes. If this sounds a lot like
governance and risk management – that’s because it is.

Regulators perform the controlling function, which is a
component of the management function. The classic problem with having
governance and risk-related roles report to management is the inherent conflict
of interest. How can you have a direct report challenge your management
direction? That said, I think they should work for managers with the spirit of
helping managers accomplish a controlled execution. This takes a healthy
relationship built on honesty and trust, and a blatant disregard for any power
distance created by the reporting structure. The first time a manager uses her
authority to overrule a regulator’s recommendations, just to save face, this
function becomes defunct.

The Auditor

It’s the auditor’s job to make sure the team is producing
the expected quality. If your standards are high, it’s the auditor’s job to
make sure your standards are met or exceeded. If you’re counting on your big
data team to produce breakthrough analyses that will engender your strategic
advantage, these analyses better be good. That’s what you’re auditor’s there
for.

This is very similar to the regulator’s role, except that
the regulator is more focused on process; whereas, the auditor is more focused
on outputs. It’s still a controlling function, so it’s appropriate to have
auditors report to managers; however, the same caveats apply. When managers are
under pressure, it’s a common tactic to take a shortcut through quality. And if
your manager pulls rank on your auditor, there’s not much the auditor can do.
This is another good reason to have both an auditor and a regulator report to
your manager. As a team, it’s easier for them to keep the manager honest.

Bottom line

I’ll go along with the data scientists being the superstars
on the big data analytics team, with analytic leaders and managers running
close second; however, there’s more to highly performing teams than just great
talent, great leadership, and great management. You must also consider the
supporting actors on your team: the salesman, the coach, the regulator, and the
auditor. They all perform an important function which warrants individual
attention placed in individual roles. If your business case supports it, I
highly recommend fortifying your team with these professionals to undergird
your overall success. If you have a big data team now, think about which
supporting actors you’re missing and work quickly to round out your team. That
way, you can relax knowing you’ve done everything you can to ensure your big
data success. You might even catch a movie – I hear Oprah plays a great
supporting role in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler.”