Eric Colson discusses the keys to analytic success ...

The key to success starts with getting the right people. I’ve learned that it’s far more important to hire people with the right personal qualities than the right technical skills. You want people who are curious, creative, tenacious, and passionate about what they do. People with those qualities quickly learn the technical skills they need, whether it’s a new programming language, like Python, or a new analytical tool. They just do it. To them, technology is a means to an end.

It’s important to pay for top talent. In a creative field like analytics, the best people perform ten times better than average people. It’s much more effective to hire one “rock star” and pay him or her a big salary than hire several average performers. And, top performers want to work with other top performers, and this creates a virtuous cycle.

Culture. The right culture also matters. A data-driven culture that values empiricism keeps politics and opinions in check. People frame their ideas as hypotheses and submit them to testing and experimentation. Although decisions are evaluated scientifically, there is still room for judgment and intuition. This kind of culture values data and analytics immensely, creating a supportive environment in which data developers and analysts thrive. The right culture also minimizes rules and processes to prevent stifling innovation and learning. It continually prunes processes that don’t add value and is willing to incur some risk to ensure a fluid, fast-moving environment.

Organization. To get the most value from your people and culture, you need the right organizational structure. I prefer a federated organization in which a central team supports the activities of embedded data developers and analysts while giving them ample opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge. Here, data developers sit side by side with the business people they support. As a result, they become immersed in the business and more effective at what they do. In a federated organization, you align first with the business, and then optimize technical functions.

Roles. In a dynamic business environment, data developers with a diversity of skills trump a collection of specialists. Specialization is a fine thing when you have well-defined requirements. But in a fast-moving company, developers need to discover requirements as they go. By developing an entire solution from requirements to testing, they can respond immediately, iterate rapidly, and deliver optimal solutions more quickly than a team of specialists that require endless meetings to coordinate their activities. The ideal data developer focuses on mastering a business domain rather than a technical specialty.

With the right people, culture, organization, and roles, you can create a high-performance analytical team.

This is an excerpt from the book, Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders,” by Wayne Eckerson. To read more from the book, click here.

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