DataTalks.Club

Data Teams

by Jesse Anderson

The book of the week from 01 Feb 2021 to 05 Feb 2021

Are you starting a data team and don’t know where to start? Are your data teams working but not producing, and you don’t know why? I’ve written this book to share my extensive experience helping companies create value with data.

Data Teams goes in-depth on the unified model for creating successful data teams. Being successful includes ensuring you have the three fundamental teams: data science, data engineering, and operations. Without all three teams, the data teams won’t achieve their highest and best output. For some organizations, the team model is there but isn’t working. Data Teams helps you diagnose the problems so you get the right teams in the right places.

Questions and Answers

Wendy Mak

Hi Jesse Anderson, I have a few questions:
for data teams, when would you choose a more ‘centralised’ mode (central data science team where all the business teams go to ) vs a ‘distributed’ mode (each relevant business team having one or two DS people working with them)

Jesse Anderson

I’m looking at this once we’re clear on best practices and doing them is second nature. Also, I’m verifying that we aren’t trying to move out of a centralized team because the data teams aren’t giving enough time to the relevant business team. Those issues don’t magically go away.

Wendy Mak

How would you encourage business people to do more data analysis for themselves, e.g. if there’s an in house metrics dashboards/analysis tool, how would you encourage biz people to use that and not just ask the data team to get the data for them?

Jesse Anderson

Through good data democratization and training. Make sure that you’ve given a place to query data while having the skills to do it.

Wendy Mak

How would you timebox/plan a proof of concept type project where it’s harder to gauge how long things would take

Jesse Anderson

If a project is that difficult and the team isn’t experienced enough, I’m looking for outside help. This outside help wouldn’t be writing the code but helping to gauge the difficulty relative to the team’s skills. That would give you a better understanding.

Wendy Mak

If you are in a more senior role in a DS team, how do you balance time between working on your own working and helping other team members and generally making sure all the projects are on track?

Jesse Anderson

Look at the StitchFix interview. I think they had an interesting way of dealing with this by having working managers. I’d be making sure that your help is actually improving others. E.g. do they consistently make the same mistake? If so, this may be a skill or knowledge gap that needs training rather than help.

Filipa Castro

Hi Jesse Anderson! Which method would you recommend for managing the work from a data team? I’ve seen people using sprints, Kaban, CRISP, but I’m not yet convinced…

Jesse Anderson

There hasn’t been much written on this subject. It was part of why I included each interviewee’s project management framework. I prefer scrum or Kanban when I’m working with a team.

Wendy Mak

do you have any recommendations for best practices around collaboration (git and so on?)

Jesse Anderson

Git, wikis, good documentation in both code and architecture, and fomenting a culture of sharing and communication.

Alessandro Lavelli

Hi Jesse Anderson , in data focused team data versioning is crucial and it is recommended to keep the same version ID both for code (feature extractor and models) and data sets. How manage this when multiple people work on the same source or when there are many data sources? Thanks a lot!

Jesse Anderson

There are software projects that address this issue. I think Datatron does this and some others too. IMHO, this is a mix of technical and business process that’s breaking down.

Alessandro Lavelli

Thanks!

Preetdeep Kumar

Hi Jesse Anderson - As a manager of a data team, how do you define role of product owner (PO). I prefer a PO who is also aware of SQL and familiar with tools like AWS Athena or Presto.
Second how we define a boundary for Data teams or their exist overlaps and ambiguity which can’t be done with.

Jesse Anderson

Brian O’Neill and I did a podcast about this https://designingforanalytics.com/resources/episodes/053-creating-and-debugging-successful-data-product-teams-with-jesse-anderson/. I ideally want a PO who is very close to the business problem and is technical enough to validate the data product meets the needs of the business.

Jesse Anderson

For the boundary, I think that’s a team maturity issue. I’d be focusing on the symbiotic relationships between the individual data teams. This will help them solve an ambiguity quickly or improve the times when the teams need to work together to solve a problem.

Jesse Anderson

Be sure to check out the extras I created for the book. I created a series of videos to complement the book. I did one more case study with Criteo that was really interesting. Get them at https://www.datateams.io.

Ricky McMaster

Hi Jesse Anderson - Considering that data teams generally receive ad hoc, unplanned requests on a regular basis, do you think this can be accommodated structurally within Scrum? Or is it more realistic to opt for Kanban?

Jesse Anderson

For analytics, lots of ad hoc tasks are unavoidable. If all tasks are ad hoc, that’s a sign of another problem. This especially applies to data engineering. For ad hoc that’s correct, I usually recommend Kanban.

Ricky McMaster

Great, thanks a lot. The proportion of ad hoc stuff is usually ~15-20%, so the challenge is to balance this with the strategic, planned tasks in a way that works for the team and doesn’t create too much admin overhead for them.
So far, the best idea we’ve come up with is 2 boards - one for Scrum, one for Kanban. The Scrum board could contain ‘placeholder’ tickets for the expected Kanban commitment (effectively timeboxing), so that this anticipated effort is budgeted in advance alongside the strategic issues.

Jesse Anderson

Another way would be to divide the team. One doing ad hoc and the other long-term. Have the team members rotate through this so they’re not getting bored.

Ricky McMaster

Yep, we do that to an extent - I’m thinking of making each ad hoc ‘shift’ shorter though, max 2 days, for that very reason (boredom). Anyway thanks a lot for your responses! Super helpful for me.

Sara Lane

There are many ways to manage data teams. How did you go about doing research for this book?

Jesse Anderson

I’ve been consulting and working with data teams for the past 9 years. There’s a great deal of my experience and comparing notes with others. The majority of the book is my observations of best practices and how I consult with my own clients. I didn’t want the book to be just my own views. I had others contribute viewpoints and conducted interviews. The interviewees were chosen based on me asking my network who would they hold out as examples of well-functioning teams.

Rosona

Hey Jesse Anderson! Excited about this topic. Thoughts on how to take a group of siloed independent researchers (university backgrounds, now in industry in the same team) who each use a different programming language and with a different focus area and make them a “team”?

Jesse Anderson

This will be a really difficult task. There are three things in your question that make me worried: “researchers”, “different languages”, and an apparent lack of data engineering. You want to be careful of this.
To your question, there are likely some skill gaps. You’d want to standardize on 1, maybe 2 languages. The others will need to learn that language. You’ll want to explain why there is a need for teams. IME researchers aren’t as used to being in a team. Show them how being in a team will improve the situation. e.g. if something breaks while they’re on vacation, it can be fixed rather than trying to call them.

Rosona

Yeah, I was thinking what is really needed is projects where people are forced to work together. Not sure how to encourage that, but I’m also not the manager or pseudo group lead. Thank you for your thoughts.

Jesse Anderson

that will be even more difficult for you to enact change without more power. try to get your management to read the book.

Rosona

And another question for Jesse Anderson: if there is no active leadership in your team (no dailies/weeklies, no one tracking progress concretely, plans only on the level of “we should try to do x in this quarter”) – what can a team member do to encourage cohesion? Is it necessary to effectively take the reins? Are there lessons from scrum-style “servant leadership” that can be brought to bear?
I see this as a data teams theme since the group mentioned is sort of research flavored, people are developing models at whatever pace and creating proof of concepts to try to sell the notion of using data science and its value. I can’t imagine this is an uncommon kind of side problem, that too much leeway is then given.

Jesse Anderson

Pairing your two questions together, this team’s dynamics are a big worry. I winced while reading your question because this won’t improve without concerted effort and buy-in from the management. In your situation, I’d be trying to convince management of the need to improve. This could manifest as a real train wreck if it isn’t already (sorry). Servant leadership will only get you so far on this one. This situation isn’t uncommon because I’ve already seen it. They become total free-for-alls that don’t get anything out the door. Take an honest look if this is going to improve or not.

Ash Smith

Hey Jesse Anderson,
Great book! Great timing for me in the stage of career too.
I’m a PO in a data team and feel I protect the team too much from the business and stakeholders and want them to get out into the business more (dogfooding more 😄 )
Any thoughts on this? Some engineers just want to write code but never want to understand how the analysis actually wants to use the data.
Thanks!

Jesse Anderson

The engineers have to do this. If you use Agile, the engineers were always supposed to work with the business too but could get by without talking to them. Now as data engineers, it isn’t an option anymore. You should figure why the data engineers don’t want to. Is it laziness, too much work, personality conflicts? Once you’ve figured that out, you can start working with the individuals on those flaws.

Vic

Hi Jesse Anderson
How would you approach the distribution of seniority in a data team in a start up? Having too many senior people could mean they end up doing boring job and having too many juniors could end up generating low quality work or using up too much of the senior people’s time.

Jesse Anderson

Data teams tend to skew senior. If I see a team mostly junior people, that’s a problem. The boring jobs come with the territory. The senior people should be able to finish them much quicker by using the right tool for the job.

Sara Lane

What are the key components to creating a successful data team?

Jesse Anderson

Having all three teams present and with the right skills/people on the teams. You should be working with the business to deliver value from the data.

Ashutosh Sanzgiri

Jesse Anderson - what metrics do you think are appropriate for measuring the success of a data team? are there ways you can use data science techniques e.g. monitoring team communications, code checkins etc. to provide feedback and improve the efficiency of data teams?

Jesse Anderson

I talk about these metrics in the book. The overall metric is are you creating usable data products that the business can use and those data products generate business value.

Sara Lane

Do you see an advantage to teams working together on-site or do you think they can work equally well remotely?

Jesse Anderson

There is a certain comfort and experience with on-site teams. It’s simply what we’ve been used to. With the right changes and communication, they can be equally effective. Done right, I think remote teams can be more effective and have an easier time with hiring.
I talk more about this in my interview with Criteo. Also, see the survey results about data teams and COVID.

Sara Lane

Thanks!

Rishabh Bhargava

Hi Jesse Anderson, thanks for writing the book and answering the questions here.
My question is around specialization. How do you think data teams should think about specializing in tools/skills? For example, should everyone know how Airflow works, or should there be a go-to guy or gal for implementing pipelines? Alternatively, should everyone be reasonably proficient in the core skills/tools that are important to the data team? Or should this be thought through on a project-to-project basis?
I ask because there are so many tools (and everyday there’s a new one) that folks work with, and each and every one of them has its own unique quirks.

Jesse Anderson

For the base or foundational technologies, everyone should know them. For others, there should be at least three people. This way, you can have vacations without worrying about coverage. The issue of so many tools is the nature of the data engineering beast. It isn’t going to change any time soon.

Vic

Hi again Jesse Anderson , and thanks for your replies so far.
How should we address ownership in a data team? it’s very easy and natural by silos. But, some models affect more than one siklo, for example, finance and commercial. How to define ownership in such cases?

Jesse Anderson

Having two of something results in all kinds of problems. I think there is a team that’s responsible for the data product that is actively working with other teams to add or improve it.

Jeanine Harb

Hi Jesse Anderson!
Thanks for writing the book. Came here because I was looking for a book about Managing Data Engineering Projects, and your book was suggested to me!
I am working on a project where I was tasked to convert some un-versioned enormous SQL query, into a full-fledged data pipeline. We are 2.25 engineers on the project, and not having managed projects before, I am finding it hard to work in a scrum-like way, where we define tasks and organize our work into stories. A lot of the code is being built from scratch, with a clear end goal though.
Do you have any advice on how to tackle organization challenges in a data environment? What should be the main focus and guiding point for every iteration?
Thanks a lot!

Jesse Anderson

Firstly, I’d be checking if those 2.25 engineers meet the skills qualifications to fix this. From the sounds of it, this sort of project should lend itself well to scrum. You’d have to give me more context to give a suggestion.

Alexey Grigorev

If somebody wanted to follow your path and get into consulting - especially consulting companies about establishing data teams. What would you recommend them to do?

Jesse Anderson

Join me and together we will rule the galaxy as father and son

Rosona

Alexey Grigorev you should follow up on this. :)

Alexey Grigorev

Let’s say that somebody wants to rule the galaxy alone 😅
Are there any recommendations for wannabe-solo-consultants?

Jesse Anderson

Start cross-training heavily in marketing, sales, and business. Get really comfortable talking about money and contracts. Create a strong brand and good recognition. Build up your LinkedIn connections.

Alexey Grigorev

Thanks! What kind of training would you recommend for business? Something like an online mini MBA?

Jesse Anderson

A big realization in my entrepreneur journey is that MBAs teach you to run other people’s business rather than start your own. Focus on ones that teach you entrepreneurship. My favorites is the Million Dollar Consulting series.

Alexey Grigorev

thanks!

Alexey Grigorev

Also, what do you think about MLOps? You covered DataOps in the book a bit, but I’m curious to know your opinion about MLOps and how is it related to DataOps

Jesse Anderson

MLOps is an important part of the equation. I’m going to be doing more content and research on this area this year.

Jesse Anderson

It could become part of DataOps or stay separate. IMHO it will be a specialization of operations teams.

Alexey Grigorev

You can start your research with our two last podcast episodes about MLOps and feture stores (haha sorry for the plug)
I do agree it looks like a specialization of ops
Thanks!

Alexey Grigorev

Quote from the book:
> Data engineering and—especially—operations won’t get the credit they deserve unless management makes a concerted effort to educate others. Failing to garner praise will make other teams think that a person or an entire team isn’t necessary to the success of the project. The reality is that key people often take their own competence for granted and don’t know how to call attention to their accomplishments.
>
It’s often a big problem and a demotivating factor for data engineers and ops people. I’ve experienced that as well.
What are the best ways to address it? Shouting out to the engineering teams every time data scientists make a demo? Ask them to take part in demos? Something else?

Jesse Anderson

I think it starts with management taking an active role in calling out data engineering and operations to other managers. During a demo or conference talk, I think data scientists should acknowledge and call out the contributions of other teams. Even better is to get data engineers and operations up on stage or in the demo too.
The reason for this is that listeners just assume the data scientists did it all. When the listeners go to implement this feature, etc they don’t know why they fail.

Surya G

This is the main reason I am planning to move away from DE to more customer focused team. No one ever gets a promotion for writing
“ Successfully replicated 10TB/day data into datalake/snowflake”
in their self review.
No matter how much we stress the importance of DE/Ops, ppl holding the purse string will always consider it to be a cost center that they would rather not have. They have no way to know how hard or easy is it to replicate data or if even thats sort of an accomplishment.

Jesse Anderson

If you put “Successfully replicated 10TB/day data into datalake/snowflake” some of the shame is on you too. You’re forcing someone to figure out the value you created instead of telling them the value you created. What you do is say “Improved data lake replicated to reduce latency by 10 minutes” or “Added new data product to the data lake that allow business to reduce costs by 30%”. Engineers are good at engineering but terrible at marketing. TBH you may find yourself in the same boat in a customer-focused team if you don’t start marketing/positioning your value better.

Surya G

thats a very good point Jesse Anderson

Surya G

Added new data product to the data lake that allow business to reduce costs by 30%". problem is that I alone didn’t add a new data product to datalake. I just did a part of that task.

Surya G

there were 10 other ppl working on that project. Would be a little weird to say my contribution reduced the business costs by 30%

Jesse Anderson

you’re saying the data product does that

Jesse Anderson

you helped create that data product. you may have been part of a team but you’ll want to take some concrete credit for the value created individually or as a team

Surya G

for example there was an existing product driving off of bunch of streams/nosql/postgres databases. new project,

  1. ETL-ed data from databases,streams into snowflake.
  2. Created datamodels from raw tables in snowflake
  3. migrated existing codebase to use snowflake instead of bunch of random datasources.
    I did part of 1 as a support person for the product team doing 3. I have no insight into budgets/spends ect for existing projects, i really have no idea how much money my contribution saved the company.
Jesse Anderson

if you’re a support person, your value comes from uptime and reliability. for example, did the reliability increase now? how much? what is that increased reliability worth? you’ll have some leg work to figure this out but it’s worth it. also, this is what your resume bullet points should look like. in the longer term, this is what will get to a next-level position.

Surya G

yea agreed Jesse Anderson. I’ve always looked at my contributions form engineering pov like you mentioned.
I will def strive to think in terms of overall value created going forward. Point noted.

Surya G

thank you

Matt Welke

lol I get this a lot at my company, except people somehow subconsciously understand the data engineering team is important. They say things like “someday I’ll understand what the <team> team does”, but at the same time we get a lot of questions sent our way.

Jesse Anderson

Send them the book! This is a big reason I wrote the book. I cut out the technical jargon and tried to make it management-friendly.

Matt Welke

I think your book really relates to my company right now. We’ve had data science and ML in one silo and data engineering and all other engineering in another silo. Literally two offices. In two countries.

Matt Welke

We desperately need to get everyone working together.

Jesse Anderson

That is something we do to help companies

Matt Welke

Data engineering seems to be a cross cutting concern.

Jesse Anderson

It’s a different animal and it sound like your company understands it at some level

Noa Tamir

I try to often call the data engineering teams “unsung heroes”. I heard another manager say it once and it clicked for me. So whenever I feel like giving stakeholders or other teams some perspectives I plug it into the conversation and people often agree.

Alexey Grigorev

But maybe engineers actually want to hear songs about their accomplishments? 🙂

Jesse Anderson

+1 on singing their songs. “Throw a coin to your data engineer”

Noa Tamir

Jesse Anderson thanks for answering the questions so far - I really enjoy going back and reading your answers. I haven’t gotten through them all, so please forgive me if I’m repeating someone else.
What is your experience and/or take on having embedded DS in a DE team and vice versa? I found it very useful in a setup where we had distinct teams for each function, but also wanted to give each team enough in-team context and skill to handle small issues on the go.

Jesse Anderson

I cover that in the DataOps section. It’s an advanced setup where you can accelerate data products.

Alexey Grigorev

In my (quite limited) experience, cross-functional teams are a lot more effective in terms of delivering useful things - with respect to product impact
But from reading the book I get an impression that the setup you suggest is separate teams.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to select the setup that will work better for a company? When to choose which approach? What kind of things we should take into account when deciding?

Jesse Anderson

I suggest separate teams initially. IMHO DataOps configurations are a more difficult organizational type. You look at DataOps once your biggest problem is organizational or team friction and not technical or beginners issues.

Alexey Grigorev

Okay so basically start with the three teams and switch to a more complex setup as the org grows?

Jesse Anderson

not grows, matures

Alexey Grigorev

Got it, thanks!

Timothy Wolodzko

Jesse Anderson do you think it is a good idea to have mixed teams of data scientists who build the models & ML engineers & developers who move them to production, or those should be split? There seem to be pros & cons of both approaches.

Jesse Anderson

I’ve seen this happen. Those teams need to be working with data scientists to level up their programming skills.
IMHO a data scientist who can’t put something into production isn’t a data scientist. They’re still a mathematician or statistician. The data scientist does need to know how to program.
It is common for MLE and data engineers to help harden data scientist’s code.

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