What do effective teamwork and Russian literature have in common? Why is successful teamwork so much like a happy marriage? How can you make teamwork more effective? Let’s start with this premise: Happy teams are all alike; every unhappy team is unhappy in its own way. Have you heard of the Anna Karenina principle? It’s derived from the famous first sentence of Leo Tolstoy’s seminal novel: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way…………
To make an impact at the enterprise level, the data science group can’t work in isolation, said Ian Swanson, Oracle vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence product development, during a presentation at the recent Oracle OpenWorld conference. “In order to do data science right, it has to be a team sport,” said Swanson, former CEO of DataScience.com, which Oracle acquired earlier this year.
One of the data science group’s most valuable teammates is the IT organization, for multiple reasons, he said. The DS group relies on IT to manage and secure the data it uses; support the needed analytics tools; and deliver ready access to scalable bandwidth, compute, and storage capacity to build and train production-oriented analytic models.
Another important ally is the application development team. Developers must incorporate the models DS builds into their “ecosystem” as regular features among the many they use to build production applications, Swanson said.
That points to a significant attribute of production-oriented models: reusability. An ecommerce recommendation engine, for instance, might be reused for forecasting an item’s revenue stream, he said. A key performance indicator for one technology company Swanson worked with on a DS project was “how often that model was used by other parts of the business,” he said.
Line-of-business managers are a valuable constituency as well, because they’re tasked with performing the actions—and getting the results—from applications that use analytic models. An underestimated advantage line-of-business managers bring to the analytics model-building process, Swanson said, is their domain expertise—their experiences working with customers.
As for the top brass, they don’t need “to be involved in every step of the model, but they need to understand how it will be used, the opportunities it offers, the things it can achieve,” Swanson said. “If you’re not involving the top, if they’re not part of the team, data science is not affecting the heart of the business.”
Awash in Tools
Because data science is the new darling of the technology marketplace, the number and variety of analytics tools are staggering. Swanson said he worked with a company whose DS team had accumulated 682 different tools. “How is IT managing 682 different tools?” he wondered.
Still, building predictive analytics models is complicated, requiring a “full stack” of tools, libraries, and languages—preferably open source, which encourages standards and self-service, Swanson said. As DS matures, its practitioners will have to comply with enterprise programming standards, in particular version control. “If you’re writing production code, you should be using some sort of system that encourages working together to follow best engineering practices, such as checking in code and making sure its reproducible,” he said.
But enterprise data science goes beyond programming. “It requires a platform that removes barriers to production, improves collaboration, manages the tool sprawl, provides self-service access to data, and helps with model planning and retention,” Swanson said.
Calling data scientists “the architects and engineers of digital transformation,” Swanson noted that there are DS use cases “in every industry and function,” providing the means to generate “new business channels and new business models.” But achieving those goals requires the will—and a strategy—for extending the work data scientists can do as widely across the enterprise as resources will allow.
“It’s about creating a process that delivers reliable outputs to drive business outcomes,” Swanson said. “You need to put it into action—that’s real DS.”
A person’s passion is the sincerest definition of who they are. Passion can manifest itself in a hobby, an aspiration, or if you’re really lucky, a career. Take two people, Joe and Jane, as an example. Joe has a passion outside of his career. He devotes a lot of his free time to this passion and naturally speaks about it to his peers.
When his peers think of him they probably define him as “person passionate about X.” Now take Jane, one of the lucky few who has made a career out of her passion. She devotes twice the amount of time, twice the amount of energy and twice the amount of conversation to her passion. How do you think her peers define her?
If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s bestseller Start With Why, then Jane will remind you of Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, or Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. Joe will remind you of the Wright Brothers. Each of these individuals built empires by undyingly following their passion. Sure, you can claim that these individuals are used as examples because of winner’s bias. But they succeeded because not only were they extremely passionate. They succeeded because they were able to clearly communicate their visions.
I consider myself extremely lucky. Like Jane, I’ve built a career out of my passion. When I first launched my film production company, my team asked the same questions regarding our clients that our competition was asking:
- What is this client doing that’s different?
- What do they bring to the table?
- What problems are they solving for their customers?
While these questions helped us understand our clients, we realized they weren’t getting to the core of what defined them. We were part of the same old convention of business. We were focusing on what our clients were doing and not why they were doing it in the first place. Once we realized this, we began asking ourselves different questions:
- How can we harness the passion that defines the client’s company to create a story?
- Are their employees inspired by that passion?
- Does the story align with their core values?
- How can we align the story with the company’s brand mission?
- How is that story going to connect with their audience?
- How are we going to make the story authentic and engaging?
The biggest takeaway, however, didn’t come in the form of one of our clients’ videos going viral. It came in-house. 2016 was the first year we set a quantitative benchmark for the number of videos we wanted to produce. Not only did we not hit the benchmark, but with all the energy we put into hitting a quota we lost focus on creating a better product. We produced more videos, but they were watered down compared to previous years. We lost our own purpose.
We got rid of all quantity benchmarks in 2017 and as a team, we held a meeting to refocus. In this meeting, we asked ourselves the same questions that we asked our clients. We ended the meeting with a mission to create a video channel to tell impactful and authentic stories that inspire others.
That channel has been a remarkably accurate reflection of the meeting where it was first conceptualized. We’re now using the same techniques that helped us define our purpose in our core business for our corporate clients. Not only has it righted our ship and produced success but it has also provided us with an entirely new set of questions to ask our clients:
- Is their organization helping others?
- Is their mission connecting with others?
- Are their customers genuinely understanding their mission?
- Are employees buying into their mission, do they believe their roles play an important part in promoting the mission?
- Are they building a community?
- Are they staying true to their core values and the values of their customers and employees?
The beauty of these questions is that you can propose them to your clients, to your employees and even to yourself. They’re not specific to video production or any industry for that matter. If you already have the answers, that’s incredible. If not, then use them to refocus your strategy or reenergize your team.
Just swap “their” and “they” for “your” and “you.” Connecting to people on a deeper level, nurturing a human connection, evoking emotion and inspiring are key ingredients to building loyalty and bringing the best out in people.
Note, however, that not all ingredients are created equal. Like apples grown on two separate farms, the ingredients that I listed — those that were seeded and cared for with passion — will always taste better.
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