Building a Better Analytics Team
As a data and analytics leader, you have the charter to deliver results. The heart of achieving this goal is to build a great team and empower them to drive toward success.
- By Troy Hiltbrand
- January 9, 2024
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” As an analytics leader, you are not responsible for building mouse traps, but you are responsible for building a better data trap.
An organization’s data is fast-moving and often elusive. Creating an infrastructure that can harness the power of your data and convert it into information is not a trivial feat. It requires a talented team of engineers and analysts to help you craft and execute this goal. Attracting, developing, and retaining a top-quality team is hard work and takes an effective talent management strategy. To build a better data trap, you first need to build a better analytics team.
You cannot just hope for a great analytics team and expect it to come to you. It takes up-front planning and preparation. The first step is to be clear about what this team will look like when it is fully staffed and operational.
A critical part of this process is clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Data architectures can be complex and have many moving parts. A single job title or job description will rarely be sufficient to cover the skills and competencies needed to complete the many tasks needed to build and operate your infrastructure. You will need to identify which types of resources you require. Some of these roles could include:
- Business analysts, who provide a bridge between your end consumers and the technology team
- Data engineers, who find, integrate, and optimize your data from across multiple different systems
- Data scientists, who surface new and previously undiscovered patterns in the data
Depending on your exact environment, the required roles could also include specialists in data warehousing, master data management, and business intelligence.
However, you must clearly define your expectations for each team member. Having clear expectations ensures that potential candidates have a good understanding of their place within your team.
Vetting candidates can be challenging. Having clear job descriptions for each role on your team will help you create targeted, explicit job postings. However, each posting should be more than a simple title and generic technical skills. Every posting should describe the essence of what you need candidates to bring to the table so you can work together as a team to achieve the defined target results.
Job postings should highlight the mandatory hard skills needed for the candidate to be successful. They need to establish a measuring stick for mandatory and preferred technologies, methodologies, certifications, and practices. An effective job posting should allow you to filter out applicants who do not have the needed skills to meet your team’s objectives.
As part of the interview and selection process, you have a variety of tools to assess proficiency of these defined hard skills, such as whiteboard coding exercises, take-home practice problems, online skills assessments, and interview questions targeted at probing the breadth and depth of the candidates’ knowledge.
In addition, as part of the process, you must effectively evaluate a candidate’s soft skills. These will become the glue that holds the team together and creates a bridge with other groups within the business. They can include business acumen, change leadership, negotiation skills, and emotional intelligence. Candidates might have all the correct hard skills on paper and even have certifications from known educational providers, but it is their soft skills that will have a significant impact on their ability to work as a team.
Through a combination of behavioral questions during the interview and personality and leadership assessments, you will start to get a sense of what a candidate can accomplish technically in the position and how they will work. As you build a team of individuals, ensure that you have complete coverage of the needed hard skills, while still making sure your team’s soft skills complement each other and create an environment where everyone can excel.
Once you have the right group of people on your team, your challenge is to build an environment where they can work effectively. Ensure that they are clear about the organization’s mission, vision, values, and objectives. Create an environment where the connection between your team’s objectives, projects, and tasks and the targets and objectives of the organization are clear. Team members need to understand how the data architecture being built will have a direct impact on the decisions the organization is making and how their activities further the goal of becoming a more data-driven organization.
Team building is not a one-time activity. It is built into everyday activities, including goal setting, performance reviews, project planning and execution, team meetings, and one-on-one meetings between you and your direct reports. The clarity of purpose is something that increases each time it is reviewed and as the team’s objectives and goals are refined and realigned.
As a leader, one of your main objectives is to remove obstacles that arise. This could include smoothing out challenges in interpersonal relationships among the team, advocating for (and securing) needed resources, and establishing and negotiating with other departments. A successful analytics leader is the grease in the machinery that makes it run smoothly and lets the team do what they are most skilled at doing -- the technical work.
In the end, when you can successfully define who the members of your team are in both function and personality and instill in them the organization’s culture and purpose, you are well on your way to having a successful team. With the right people in the right roles and with the right vision, your people will be smart enough and capable enough to build that better data trap that will bring the organization to you as it strives to make critical business decisions.
For a data and analytics leader, the path is not always easy, but the impact you can have on the business and the legacy you can leave are beyond compare.
Troy Hiltbrand is the chief information officer at Amare Global where he is responsible for its enterprise systems, data architecture, and IT operations. You can reach the author via email.