an agile approach
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Working at a distance is hard. It requires discipline, planning, trust, and an acceptance that things may not be smooth. It can however, be empowering, productive and highly successful. But how do we enable our data science teams to stay connected to the culture and values any organisation stands for, and one another – both professionally and socially – when we lose the ability for physical interaction? Arguably, COVID-19 has done more for digital transformation than the past 10 years of technological evolution and as a result the workplace has changed forever. Meaning a whole new set of tools and processes combined with effective stakeholder management, in a positive, success-led manner.

Below are some practical hints and simple processes that can be adopted with your teams that we deploy in our own Project Management, to ensure we stay productive in a suboptimal environment.

1. Talking beatS WRITING

Success comes from communication. We’ve all had weeks, days  and even moments when we’ve wanted to shoot email in the face and bury it six feet beneath the surface, and at times of social isolation, the need to ensure the appropriate use of email is paramount. For many people, email is the standard go-to device for managing workload, but to truly engage people in the business, we need to shift our thinking so that communications are more interactive giving all participants a voice. On day 2 of isolation, we instigated a daily stand-up at team level – just a short 15-minute meeting where everyone got to highlight issues, blockers, concerns, achievements, and questions – both work and personal. Aside from providing a platform to check the health and physical wellbeing with demonstrating empathy for everyone’s personal circumstancces, it gives an opportunity for everyone to stay connected, see each other, and generate a sense of ‘all-in-it-togetherness’ that the written word simply cannot achieve. Do this every day, make it a ritual, and maybe it will stay with you once we’re out the other side.

2. Protocol has changed

Strong and effective leadership is based on understanding the purpose, people and processes related to any given activity. In a remote setting, this is more difficult to achieve. The best decisions are made when they are informed through experience, so take the opportunity of inviting senior stake holders, engage and break down barriers across the organisation. Ensure clarity as to why data is at the heart of every business decision. Get them involved in daily stand-ups, include them in team discussions – not to lead, but to participate – and give them the opportunity to understand the context within which the business is now operating. As a workforce we are all learning this new paradigm together, and only together will we find the best way to deliver.

3. Create space for your staff and trust them to deliver

The working day at home; wake up, stumble to the bathroom, see your laptop enroute, open and get sucked in. Before you know it, family life is happening around you and the ability to distinguish between work ‘you’ and ‘non-work’ you is increasingly diminished. Many successful people live like this all their lives – I once had a CEO tell me he purposefully didn’t distinguish between work and home – but I don’t believe this is the norm, nor do I believe it to healthy for the majority of us. And we can do things to help.

Create space in the working day to step away. Encourage everyone to do the same. Be tolerant if individuals need to focus on other priorities at certain times and trust your colleagues to get the job done. I am sure that working patterns will shift markedly as a result of COVID-19, but we will also be a more productive country as a result. Encourage your staff to connect with their families, give them space to work to a pattern that allows them stay focused. Do this for them, and you’ll be surprised at how big a mountain they’ll move for you.

4. Maximise the adoption of shared platforms

Alongside your daily standups, encourage the daily adoption of data science tools as an outlet for question, advice or even unload after a bad day. Mango heavily relies on instant messaging tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, which offer a great way for our team to communicate and share their own tips and tricks. We also conduct a weekly analytics club for showcasing ideas and progress with projects, and encourage conversations throughout the week with games like ‘Whos Desk is this?’ and ‘Two truths and a lie’. Shared collaboration tools such as trello, planner or JIRA offer a great platform for sharing to do lists and help understand generally how projects are progressing. Coding in remote teams only enforces the need for good coding practices, structured review processes, creating readable and reproducible code, and making use of version control software’s such as Git and GitLab. While working remotely, these practices and tools enhance our ability to share code with the team. Afterall Data Science is a Team sport.

5. Be open to challenge and let your staff see their voice

We do so many things whilst ‘at work’ and our experience and activities are often so much more than the job we have. We make friends, we come together around similar interests and passions, and we help each other when needed. None of this happens simply because we have a job; it happens because at the heart of it, we are driven by the need to be active in our community. But people also need to feel that they have a voice. COVID-19 and the related isolation has been an imposition like we have never experienced before, and everyone is working out what works best for them. Leaders are trying to put mechanisms in place to allow workable solutions, but these won’t always be right. Its important to give those experiencing it (and by that we mean EVERYONE!) a chance to feed in. Create space for staff to share challenges, offer solutions, and be prepared to act on them. Giving staff the ability to see change as a direct result of their needs will help them see that they can make a difference. This is a critical component of community building and will and it will bring your teams closer together.

We might just find , the end result is a whole new set of tools and processes, combined with effective stakeholder management, lending itself to in a positive enforced success-led initiative .

Author Pete Scott, Client Services Director at Mango.

 

 

successful strategies to navigate your team
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Having access to the right data, at the right time, and in the right format, in order to inform your business strategy has always been critical in defining commercial success.  But in today’s exceptionally challenging business environment, where market conditions are changing daily (and in some industries, such as oil and gas, hourly), the availability of business-critical data, and the insights derived from it, is the key determinant in ensuring commercial survival.

Truly, we are in uncharted territory for the world economy and there are no precedents to refer to for those businesses trying to navigate a path to survival.  This means that the ability to understand trends to predict outcomes and to measure progress – through data management and analysis – is essential for senior executives to make the right decisions about the direction of their businesses.

In short, never has data science been more important – and having immediate, short and long term data strategies in place will help create the agility required for long term commercial success.

Here are five key data initiatives to focus on during this period:

1. Management Information (MI)

i) If your MI is based on retrospective data that was extrapolated manually through Excel wrangling and presented in a way that is not relevant to the situation because of a time lag, or worse possible errors and therefore counter intuitive, then it will be ignored versus

ii) having the right (MI) and metrics.  You can’t make good decisions without good data, so get your data & analytic teams focused on rethinking your MI suite, injecting forward-looking insight, and ensure it is automated

2. Business scenario simulation

The only thing that is certain right now is that nothing is certain. And if nothing is certain, then scenario planning can help and asking the right questions will be key to success:  what would happen if this situation lasts 3 months?  Or 6 months?  Or 9 months?  What happens if the ‘new normal’ is more, or less suited to your business?  Analytic teams can help you simulate and understand the impact of different scenarios on your business so you can better plan for the future.

3. Prepare for success

How do you ideally plan for your escape velocity to ensure you are in the best position to succeed post Covid-19?  For example, how do you best behave to regain and retain your clients if you’ve recently undergone significant churn?  Data science can help you plan the best approach and strategy to optimise the outcome commercially.

4. Data-driven transformation

A positive side effect of Covid-19 in the business world is that the situation will serve as the catalyst needed to accelerate digital transformation for many organisations, and thus reducing the time to becoming data-driven.  Are you prepared for this change?  If not, you may find the competitive landscape in the ‘new normal’ has shifted, with technology enabling other companies to make better, data-driven decisions and reduce costs. Could you compete with that?  Now is the time to focus on your transformation strategy to prepare you for life post-Covid.

5. Data & Analytic Literacy

Part of becoming data-driven is changing the culture within your organisation to make data-driven decision-making part of the DNA, rather than something that comes ‘from the top’ and trickles down, possibly getting lost on the way. Now is the time to teach your workforce the language of data & analytics, so you can devolve more decision making and give people the skills to thrive in the new data-driven future.  Upskilling, buddying and mentoring schemes can all help with this.

Now is perhaps the right time to make decisions using your data. The Covid-19 situation has become a numbers story on all levels, and it’s the data behind those numbers that is driving many Government, business and personal decisions.  We know from watching the news how regularly those numbers change, and the same will apply to your business.  Remember, agility is the new currency for business and putting effective data strategies into place now will help you emerge on the other side of this as healthy as you were when you went in.

Author Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist

Related content

Blog: Future Proofing your Data Science Team

 

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You may have already read our recent blog: So what does a data science consultant’s radar look like? ,which looked at one of Mango’s data science consultant’s personal radars, created using Data Science Radar. This time it’s the turn of Joe Russell, one of our junior Data  Science consultants…

For those of you that may not know, Mango’s Data Science Radar maps the many and varied competencies in the field of data science against six core data science traits. These traits quantify relative strengths and areas for improvement  for individual s as well as at a team level  – ultimately enabling users and team leads to make decisions based on evidence, rather than intuition.

Here’s what we discovered when we analysed the radar of one of our junior consultants:

Name: Joe Russell

Job title: Junior Data Science Consultant

Qualification(s): BSc Mathematics

Number years in current role: 6 Months

Joe’s radar reflects his journey so far into the world of data science. As a graduate, Joe is continuing to learn as he trains on the job, experiencing as much as he can while undertaking project tasks and building his communication skills as he goes.

In fact, good communication and empathic skills are fundamental when it comes to interacting with clients – a strong collaboration between the technical and business teams to ensure everyone is on the same page is essential, and a key resource for getting senior stakeholder buy-in.

 

Here’s what we discovered when we analysed Joe’s persobal radar:

Joe’s top 3 traits:

• Programmer
• Visualiser
• Data Wrangler

When you first got your results back from the radar, did you find anything surprising?

“Overall, I would say the radar closely aligned to my perceived strengths and weaknesses. I expected the programmer, data wrangler and visualiser roles to all be high as these arewhich are the areas I have been most exposed to so far during my time at Mango. I’ve had the privilege of delivering some of Mango’s “Introduction to R” training courses which focus on these three areas, and so being more experienced is a requirement for delivering such courses.

“The communicator questions mainly focused around interactions with stakeholders which I have not had much exposure to thus far, although I hope this will be increasing in the future.

What impact has the radar had on your recent work?

“Recently I have been working on a project designing an app that sits on top of an underlying database. This has involved designing and understanding a suitable database schema as well as querying the data itself. These were areas I knew I was not as confident in, based upon my radar, and so I was quickly able to identify the need to familiarise myself with the key concepts”.

Which parts of your radar would you like to improve the most and why?

“I would like to improve my communicator and modeller skills more. I believe communication is an essential skill no matter what the industry, and so being able to engage with stakeholders and work effectively within a team will prove invaluable. Modelling is an area I think most Data Scientists would agree is the most exciting with all the possibilities of Machine Learning and AI. I currently have only a surface level understanding in these areas but aim to change this during my time at Mango”.

Building your own analytic team and want to find out more? Check our Building the Winning Analytic Team page for more related information.