Insights and News /

09 October 2019

Data projects - creating a culture that helps guarantee success

Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith
Manager | Insurance | London

So far you will have read a lot about the technical side of delivering a large data project. Ultimately, however, a project is made up of a group of people. Building a diverse and engaged project team is of paramount importance to deliver and sustain the goals of the project.

“I’m on a Data Project…” it’s not a phrase you’re likely to bring up over dinner in too much of a hurry. Right after you mention that it’s in the Insurance industry, you see eyes glaze over, arms fold and the polite “Hmm – sounds cool”. Almost immediately conversation takes an about turn to talk about something more scintillating – like The Shipping Forecast.

Whilst you definitely need people who can write code to execute a data project, you need to include a range of non-technical skills too. Supplementing sheer computer wizardry, projects also need a broad mix of people, skills and personalities to contribute to a team culture that will pull people through the inevitable tough times too.

Here are my thoughts on what makes a data project tick – specifically, how to foster a supportive culture resulting in better business outcomes:

Encourage people to be themselves and share their experiences

The people I work with are among the most diverse, interesting and eclectic that I’ve worked with throughout my career. Having 30 people thinking the same way about the same problem won’t get you anywhere. You need to bring a mix of people, skills and capabilities together to come up with a better solution, in less time, to a tricky problem.

Data projects aren’t all about crunching code and moving numbers

You need to have people who can write code - no surprises there. You also need a supporting cast of people who can:

  • Articulate a (sometimes boring) problem in an interesting and engaging way to people who aren’t data specialists that gets them bought into finding the solution
  • Manage the living daylights out of a plan – coaxing, cajoling and collating tasks and outcomes using inputs from introverts, extroverts, optimists and pessimists alike
  • Act as a talisman, building a sense of followship – often out of thin air, to get better results, faster.

Plenty of projects do both these things well. Very few are able to sprinkle the fairy-dust on top and build something that’s genuinely special to be a part of.

The magic ingredient

Spoiler alert – there isn’t one. It’s a lot of cake, a river of tea and sometimes pizza when it all gets too much. It’s also code, lots and lots of code. Most importantly it’s not being afraid to push different people together, nudging them in a direction and leaving them to find the answer their own way.

When tackling a data project, spending time thinking about building a strong project culture will get better output, in less time – it’ll also make it a fun piece of work to be a part of.

Oh, and if you find a way to make it sound cool over dinner – please get in touch!