How to Train Your Data Scientist (the softer side)

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About Kimberly Nevala 

As this diagram shows, the perfect data scientist is a fearsome creature. A mythical beast with an astute business acumen and a comprehensive understanding of statistics, data, and technology. Coupled with the ability to communicate, collaborate and convince a broad audience to take action on found insights.

Brain of a Data Scientist

In reality? This mythical beast does not exist. The best data scientist is a team composed of diverse experts armed with the “soft” skills to make it all work. Which means all is not lost.

Here are 5 simple actions your Data Science team can take to cultivate the so-called “soft” skills required to bring it all together.

  1. Socialize Them. First up, socialization. Need to increase the business competency of your data scientists and data management teams while simultaneously raising the business’s data IQ?

Start by letting the masses mingle. But don’t expect collaboration to spontaneously combust around the proverbial water cooler. Space and time for thinking is required. In a real sense, an analytic lab or innovation center is a designated, sanctioned forum for hosting analytic play dates.

Once you’ve arranged those play dates? Well, let them play.

  1. Let Them Play. Great insights aren’t manufactured but born organically. Give the data science team room and, in fact, a mandate to roam and explore. Without constraining the expected outcome. Or prescribing a path to get there.
  1. Keep It Inbounds. Of course, letting them play, doesn’t mean that no rules apply. Just like throwing sand is verboten in a real sandbox, exploration for the sake of exploration is a no-no on the analytic playground.

Put another way: Analytic discovery is not discovery without intent. Even the broadest, most speculative discovery projects should have a clear objective or thesis to be explored.

Remember: you can’t solve a problem until you identify the problem you’re solving. Which brings us to our next point….

  1. Call Time “One more minute mom!” This refrain is the bane of any parent who’s ever tried to pry their child away from play for those pesky necessities like sustenance and sleep. Without a method to the madness, it can be equally challenging to keep data science projects from going down the analytic rabbit hole. To avoid this trap, savvy data science teams deliberately check themselves early and often. They ask: does the insight we’ve found matter? And are we ready or willing to put them into action? If not, no harm no foul. We’ll chalk the learning in the win column and proceed to the next challenge.

All of which implies that the team is clearly communicating amongst themselves and with the broader stakeholder community. So, last but not least…

  1. Teach Them to Use Their Words, Not Their Math – For data science to transcend the lab the audience must understand, believe and be motivated to act on found insights.

To accomplish this, data scientists must be storytellers. Able to weave the facts into a compelling narrative that connects the dots between the facts and the business’s cause du jour.

So there you have it. Five simple actions to help cultivate and train a data scientist team of mythical proportions.

The best news? The same activities that cultivate the softer side of your quantitatively inclined scientists also raise the analytic IQ and engagement of your organization at large. And that can be accomplished in 5 easy steps.

For more tips and tactics, check out Portrait of a CAO (the eBook).

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