If Data were a player on a soccer field, what player would it be? This is a question I always ask during interviews whether I’m being interviewed or I’m the interviewee, and believe there are multiple correct answers to this same question. We’ll get back to this analogy in a bit.
First, I wanted to share some of my guiding principles that are always in the back of my mind as I approach new Datasets, write SQL scripts, create Tableau dashboards and build Data teams. Together, these will help us answer this question. Keep in mind that I’ll be using “Data” to include both “Data and Analytics” throughout this post. However, before you can build a strong Analytics program, you must have sound Data collection and management systems in place. Without any further adieu, here are my “Data Principles”:
Data should be well structured, publicly accessible, and used as an organizational compass. Data collected, reported on and analyzed should answer driving questions such as: "Where are we right now?" "Where are we going?" and "How did we get here?" Likewise, core organizational initiatives should be backed by guiding metrics and goals.
I believe that Data should be a driver of core business decisions; however, it should not be the only driver. Industry experience and additional context should be used in conjunction with Data insights in order to craft a full narrative and make the best decisions based on all available information -- Data-based and otherwise.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best solutions. There are plenty of great tools available for analysis, storage and visualization -- just check out this periodic table of skills and tools. It is easy to assume that the more complex solutions will produce better and more accurate results. But don’t ignore the basic building blocks of excel spreadsheets, free online tools, and a good old fashioned pencil and paper report mock up.
A core justification for using simpler tools is they are more accessible to a wider audience. This brings us to the next guiding principle: Data should be transparent and democratized across the entire company. Companies like Looker are leading the way in allowing for easy standardization and sharing of Data so all roles are Data-driven and can access the Data and insights needed to learn, iterate and improve overall performance.
Data teams should iterate with the rest of the organization. Make mistakes, learn from them and encourage others to follow suit. Furthermore, the field of Data and Analytics as a whole is constantly changing, so strong teams should challenge themselves to always be learning new and different techniques.
Data teams must be their own best advocate for how they can make an impact and put their work into action. Reporting and analysis without strong communication campaigns behind this work are futile. Many very smart, experienced and hardworking stakeholders need an extra nudge to build trust in new techniques or further explanation of Data values and insights.
Last but not least, Data should be surprising and at times fun. Every Data team I’ve worked with has been full of quirky personalities resulting in lots of “out of the box” thinking and creative problem solving.
Now, going back to players on a soccer field, I believe that Data can play many roles. On the field, Data can play defense making sure red flags are identified and spotted early. Off the field, Data can play the role of scorekeeper to ensure everyone on the field has a shared understanding of what is happening right now. After the game, Data will step up to the plate as the post game advisor helping organizations analyze the trends and lessons from the final outcome. In all of these positions, Data’s role is to ensure that all players, spectators and coaches are Data-driven.