Even though it's tempting to embrace the latest and greatest theories on management, sometimes a leader needs to go old school to get the job done.
Managing a big data analytics team is no different. I can't overemphasize the importance of management when running a big data analytics team. As the leader, you are responsible for creating a compelling vision and helping the team through the anxiety of change. Of course, your data scientists and other analytics are responsible for developing the sophisticated analyses that will bring you a competitive advantage. But who is going to organize and manage all the moving parts that will bring this strategy home?You have a few options. You could hire a heavy-duty consultant like me; however, depending on what you're trying to accomplish, that might be like bringing a Howitzer to a gun fight. You could appoint one of your existing managers to run the team; however, they probably have a full plate already, and it's hard to know whether they have enough of an analytic background to successfully communicate with the data scientists. There is a third option. If you're running a small company, or you're leading a division with a relatively small budget, you might want to dust off the playbook from a few decades ago. If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive way to manage your big data analytic team, consider hiring an out-of-work Six Sigma Black Belt.
There are a lot of things I like about the Six Sigma Black Belt play. First and foremost, an experienced Six Sigma Black Belt should have both the analytic and management skills to run a team of data scientists. Six Sigma is a management methodology developed by Motorola in the mid-1980s that relies on Statistical Process Control (SPC) techniques to improve process quality. The Black Belt on a Six Sigma project is the one responsible for managing the team (comprised mainly of Green Belts) and helping with the more sophisticated analyses. In this regard, a Black Belt has both the analytic background and management experience that's required to successfully manage a big data analytic team.
Additionally, Six Sigma Black Belts seem to be available at a pretty reasonable rate these days. A quick search on Glassdoor puts the national median salary for a Black Belt at around $85K. That's not bad, considering you're getting a statistician and manager all wrapped up into one package. And remember, this is no average number-cruncher. When I trained at Motorola to become a Black Belt, I learned a lot more than just means and standard deviations. Black Belts need to support the Green Belts when they get stuck; this takes a pretty advanced set of statistical skills.
Finally, Black Belts have the right attitude and passion for numbers. Nobody in their right mind would do this job if they didn't love the subject matter. Although it seems soft and fuzzy, passion is an important ingredient for this role. This passion will radiate when they communicate with the data scientists, and they will appreciate it. This dynamic will foster team cohesion and ease the team through inevitable conflicts.