The People You Need On Your Data Team

If you want your project to be successful, you will need good people on your team. Happy, hard-working experts. Your team will need skills across two dimensions. They should be specialists in their role and they should be a pleasure to work with. More projects have been scuttled by interpersonal issues than by a lack of skill so make sure you choose your team wisely.

Look for people who are friendly and willing to help out. Teammates who don’t alienate their team or chase political power. It is often easy to recognize if someone is genial and open, but it is also easy to overlook interpersonal skills when you focus on expertise and experience. Smart, nice people can often grow into roles. Select for character first.

If you find someone you would like to work with, you now need to check that they can get the job done. Any data project will require the following roles: Project Lead, Technology Partner, Implementation Manager, Data Analyst. Each of those roles will need to be filled by people with a specific skillset. Identify the potential teammate’s skills through a conversation or series of conversations like any normal interview process. A better method is to assess the potential teammate by reviewing tangible project outcomes that the potential team member has completed in the past. Let us review each role:

Project Lead

The project lead is first and foremost a leader. She should be able to articulate a vision and attract great people to work on her team. She should also be able to tell a compelling story about the project, whether to people in the organization or important stakeholders outside of the organization.
Beyond leadership, the project lead needs to know how to manage a team. He needs to be able to ensure that the project is progressing and that all team members are contributing to the success of the project. When organizational issues arise, he needs to resolve them and empower his team members to solve problems within their own scope.

The project lead is the most important role. It is also the hardest to select for. Try to identify the project lead by looking into her past. Have her recount past successes and when possible get recommendations from others who have worked for or with her.

Technology Partner

You need someone who understands technology when collecting and analyzing data. The level of involvement will be based on the needs of your project.

The technology partner should point you to the best tool for your needs. He may recommend an existing product or a custom-built solution. The costs can vary widely so it’s important that there is a level of trust between you and your technology partner.

The technology partner should have a understanding of what solutions are already available, what it will require to build custom solutions, and what the tradeoffs are. A deep technical expertise is also important. You need to be confident that the data is being collected without error and that the data is stored securely. The quality of your technology partner will greatly impact how much you and your team are able to accomplish.

For non-technical people, it is hard to evaluate a technology partner. The best way to evaluate a candidate is to have her point to successful projects she’s completed and get feedback from people who she has worked with in the past.

Implementation Manager

The role of this person will vary greatly based on the type of data you are collecting and where you are collecting it. For those collecting data in Africa, you will need someone who has a deep understanding of the country.

Most often a implementation manager will be leading a much larger team of people who are out in the community collecting the data. His role may mirror the project lead in many ways, but his key responsibility will be around managing the data collectors. This person should have strong process skills. He needs to ensure that the data continues to flow and be able to problem solve problems to resolve any issues that may arise.
Identifying the right person for this position will likely be easier than the first two roles we discussed. Find someone who can demonstrate that she has kept an existing system running. Have her recount what problems she resolved while running the system. Again, get feedback from people she has managed in the past.

Data Analyst

A good data analyst will help you answer the questions you defined as well as uncover additional answers that lurk in the data. The data analyst should be able to take the data and tell stories that help you and your stakeholders understand what is happening on the ground.

The role of the data analyst may be minimal for some projects and absolutely necessary for others. Spend time asking questions to smart data people to understand what level of effort your project will need.

Finding a data analyst will be difficult because there are so few trained professionals and a huge demand. You can evaluate a data analyst by discussing past projects. How well is he able to tell you a story around data he has analyzed? Such a discussion will reveal how well he is able to communicate and what level of knowledge he has. Asking about where he was trained is also a good indicator of his skills.

The four roles we discussed are necessary for any project, but team composition will vary widely. For a small project, a single person may be able to fill each role. A large project may require teams of people for each role. Proper planning and an iterative approach can help you add people to the project as necessary.

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