Executive indecision

A sure fire way to drive your big data analytics team crazy
is to tell them what needs to be done, when it’s going to be done by, and how
many people it’s going to take to get it done. This sounds like a management
best practice, and the responsibility for knowing for all these elements falls
squarely on the shoulders of your team’s manager; however, dictating all three
as firm is not a best practice – it’s a fait accompli.
There are only two outcomes from this stance: either it happens or it doesn’t.
I’ll let you guess what happens more often. The proper way to manage your big
data analytics team starts with defining your philosophy around which dimension
stands firm, which one will be adjusted, and which one will be allowed to
adjust: this is what I call the post,
lever, and balance method (PLBM) of management

Posting on Scope

Of the three dimensions that make up the metaphysics of
activity management – scope, time, and people (effort) – the most intuitive and
commonly used dimension to post on is scope. This means that scope will hold
firm and we need to make a decision on the two other dimensions. For example,
let’s say you must develop a breakthrough analytic service offering that puts
you head and shoulders above anything else currently offered by your
competitors. You’ve done both a competitive analysis and a discovery analysis
on your internal data, and you’re pretty sure none of your competitors can
develop what you’re envisioning. Furthermore, it will blow your competition out
of the water. In this case, it makes sense to clearly define your vision, lock
it into place (i.e. post on scope), and do whatever it takes to make it happen.

The next decision you must make is what remaining dimension
(time or people) your lever will be (what you will adjust) and what dimension
your balance will be (what you will allow to be adjusted). If you decide your
lever will be time, then you should come up with a few scenarios with different
end dates, based on how things develop. For instance, you could have a better
case scenario that takes advantage of positive risk, a target or primary
scenario, and a worst case scenario that adjusts for negative risk. Notice the
use of comparatives instead of superlatives – it’s not good to describe levers
as ultimatums, because it looks like more posts instead of a true lever. Also,
you’ll need a very flexible way of adding and removing people (or effort) from
the project, as every time you move the time lever and solve for how much
effort you’ll need, you’ll have to make adjustments in your team composition.

In the alternate scenario – making people your lever and
time your balance – you build scenarios that represent intentionally adding or
removing people. Remember though, you must let it take as long as it’s going to
take – you are not controlling time at all with this philosophy.

Posting on Time

Posting on time is a fundamentally different philosophy than
posting on scope. When you post on time, you’re dictating that something
must be done by a certain time – no exceptions. That sounds good to management
until they understand exactly what something means. It certainly doesn’t
mean something specific, because that would mean that you have two posts. We’ll
get to that in a minute, but let me give you an example of where this primary
decision makes sense.

Let’s say you have a product in the marketplace that’s doing
extremely well and you’d like to offer your market an analytic service to
complement it. Your competition has competing products, but they haven’t really
thought about analytic services, so your idea is pretty novel in the
marketplace. That said, you don’t want your competition to get any wise ideas
before you have a chance to release something, so to maintain primo
positioning, you must get something out in six months. This is a good time to
post on time.

Again, the subsequent decision is whether to use scope as a
lever or as a balance. In this case, using scope as a lever is very similar to
the agile approaches that are popular these days. If this is your philosophy, I
would adopt an agile management approach that’s already been annealed like Scrum
or LAMDA. With this
approach, your offering’s value will be broken up into small pieces of
standalone value. You job as a leaders is to make sure the most important standalone
functions are implemented first. Then, when the time runs out – stop! That’s
the definition of posting on time. If you’ve managed this properly, you will
have developed something that’s both valuable and ready to release into the
market. Balancing on scope can work as well, but you must be even more diligent
on chunking up the value and prioritizing.

Posting on People

Posting on people means you have a fixed team, and it will
stay that way no matter what. This is a good way to control your monthly spend;
however, I really like this approach from a group dynamics perspective. You
will build a great data science team if you start them all together and let
them evolve as a group over time. This is the most appropriate approach for the
leader whose focus is more on bringing in awesome talent, then dynamically
adjusting how to best apply those talents.

This is more of a program-level view of your data science
team. If you use scope as a lever, you can organize large objectives for the
team, and sequence them in a way that makes sense for your overall goals. For
instance, you can start them off by helping you with your strategic driving
force: products-offered, markets-served, or maybe something else. When that’s
done, you can have them work on some specific discovery or qualitative
analysis, like what’s available in your operational data that might be valuable
to your customers. Finally, have them work on some quantitative analysis that
leverages the previous discovery, like the digital behaviors that identify your
best customers.

If you use time as a lever, you can play around with
different time periods to gauge what their productivity levels are during
certain spans. This will also give you some control over when something should
be available, but again, there are no guarantees on what will come out of any
given period. So, you must make sure scope flexibility is not going to backfire
on you. If scope flexibility is new to you, get an expert to start you off.
This is a concept that can really blow up in your face if you’re not careful.

Bottom line

Scope, time, and people are the interwoven dimensions that
comprise any project, program, or strategic outcome. However, for all three to
line up exactly as you expect them to, is a fool’s paradise that will deplete
your organization of energy, time, and morale. Of the three, decide which will
be your post (unwavering, defend at all cost), your lever (manipulate at will),
and your balance (whatever will be, will be). This is your management
philosophy and it should be well understood by everyone and defended when
challenged. Think about how you’re running your team today. Do they understand
where your priorities are, or have you given them a fait accompli? If they don’t
meet your fantasy projections, it’s more your fault than theirs.

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