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Staffing a Data Warehouse or Analytics Project – Part II – Team Management

Staffing a Data Warehouse or Analytics Project - Part II - Team Management

Team management is a crucial factor in the development and implementation of all successful data warehouse and analytics programs.

Just as it is important to create and implement the proper roles for a data warehouse / business intelligence / analytics initiative and organize the roles according to organizational best practices, it is essential to develop and retain a strong overall organization.  Creating and maintaining an effective DW/BI/analytics team can be a significant challenge for many organizations, and the struggle to support the skilled resources can affect the success of the effort.

Building the Right Organization

Many people in every organization will have an opinion about to how to build the right DW/BI/analytics team or unit.  Some criteria are consistent across all organizations, while others should be specific to the type, size, and style of solution.  Regardless, if the approach was designed without any input from those that have been involved in a successful effort, the resulting team will be challenged to achieve the stated goals. 

Solicit advice from those who have been part of successful data warehousing / business intelligence / analytics organizations.  They understand the politics, organizational dynamics, and operational needs for the analytical initiatives, current and in the future.

Using the roles outlined for a successful DW/BI/analytics effort, the leadership team can examine some steps for staffing those roles, based on proven practices. 

The Hardest Roles to Fill…

Invariably, some roles are hard to fill, regardless of industry, organizational size, or geography.  An IT manager with proven experience leading and staffing a successful data warehouse / BI effort is essential, but can be hard to find and retain.  A DW/BI lead architect –select someone that understands many design alternatives and can fit the right architecture to the business needs.  ETL architect– ETL resources are some of the most technical skills that the initiative will require.  Thus, good ETL architects are very hard to find – most are consultants.  A DBA with DW experience in the chosen DBMS and ability to interact with the developers and data modelers.  A BI Architect with experience with many tools and technologies and the ability to work with users to interpret and define user-effective and business-appropriate solutions.  Lastly, data modelers with experience in data warehouse / BI are rarely available.  Experienced data modelers demonstrate their value when they work directly with the ETL developers and DBAs.

Essential Skills…  

Often the organization focuses on the specific technical tool sets – ETL, BI, metadata, analytics, data science, etc.…  While this can be important, the odds of finding key resources that know exactly the tool and the organization’s data is very low.  If someone has experience with those specific tools, it is likely that they do not have architecture or design experience.  Instead, focus on the essential skills of analysis and design and identify the leaders of each subject and/or functional area for data, and send staff to tool training.  This may be the most significant decision that will affect the program’s success.

Attracting the Right Employees…

Use many different web sites to highlight open positions.  Have a good story to attract optimal candidates, since they will have many opportunities available to them.  Leverage users groups and lists (the organization should be active in local users’ groups).  Follow-up quickly and decisively with all strong leads.  Networking can be invaluable and having leadership that is well connected will expose additional opportunities.

Supplementing with Consultants and Contractors…

To meet a short deadline or to develop a wide range of skills, enlist some outside help.  It is important to separate consultants – those that will provide guidance and strategy – from contractors who will work with employees or alone to get the work done.  While it is desirable to have internal employees learn all of the facets of the solution, training alone cannot accomplish this.  The best solution is to bring in some external guidance and let the key resources know that they have an opportunity to learn from the external experts.  Doing so enables continued progress while developing expertise with on the job training.

Retaining a Strong Team…

Most people with the needed necessary skills and talents in DW/BI/analytics – and the associated areas of metadata management, data governance for DW/BI, data quality, etc., are happily and fully employed.  When the team or unit has been developed, it is crucial that the organization retain these people, and keep them engaged.

Treat DW/BI/Analytics as a Profession…

The Information Technology field continues to grow, in breadth and depth.  It is impossible to know every aspect of technology, other than at a cursory level.  The DW/BI/analytics field, specifically, is challenging since it is connected to all the other areas of enterprise data management.  Therefore, it is essential for all DW/BI/analytics professionals to have at least a basic understanding of the interactions of metadata and master data and data quality with ETL and other fundamental aspects of DW/BI/analytics.

Additionally, it is crucial for each DW/BI professional to implement what they learn multiple times for multiple needs, so they have a significant understanding of how/why/what it takes to be successful.  Once resources are trained and experienced, they desire to feel appreciated for those special skills.  Finally, it is important for organizations to have specific salary adjustment criteria for this special skill.

Professional Growth Opportunity…

Many employees want to know that as they are successful in their job and demonstrate effort and desire to succeed that they have an opportunity to receive a reward/promotion.  This sounds ridiculously simple management to any manager reading this.  Management should reward the resources who have demonstrated special skills, through salary increases and additional responsibilities that are commensurate with their skills and interests.  In addition, those staff who choose to earn certifications in the field should be rewarded accordingly.

Assistance/Mentorship…  

Many resources want to learn, and they recognize the value that seasoned experts in this field provide.  Having access, even on a limited basis, to these special resources helps employees grow and they appreciate it.  If possible, keep a strong architectural consultant on retainer to help employees with some planning, design, or periodic discussion.  This helps provide extra knowledge that helps employees grow and gain confidence.

Training…

Continued training is an essential part of the development of every DW/BI/analytics team.  Once the team has undergone basic education, they must practice and demonstrate their skills, and learn additional concepts and techniques, especially in areas such as metadata management and data architecture.  Since there are so many areas of growth in every aspect of DW/BI/analytics, learning can be a never-ending experience. 

The resources that gravitate to this type of learning are the ones to support – they are the future of the organization’s analytical efforts.  Encourage attendance at users groups – these are free activities that usually only take a day out of the office once a quarter.  There are also seminars, conferences, and classes that will help those individuals to grow.  Resources who attend training should share their experiences with the remainder of the team, helping everyone to learn.

Conclusion

Building an effective organization is always a challenge and it takes time.  Having internal or external employees adopt the DW/BI/analytics strategy and define processes for an effective  solution is not easy and cannot happen quickly.  Follow the steps for proper team development and any DW/BI/analytics initiative can be successful.

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Bruce D. Johnson

Bruce D. Johnson is an experienced IT consultant focused on data / application architecture, and IT management, mostly relating to Data Warehousing. His work spans the industries of healthcare, finance, travel, transportation, and retailing. Bruce has successfully engaged business leadership in understanding the value of enterprise data management and establishing the backing and funding to build enterprise data architecture programs for large organizations. He has taught classes to business and IT resources and speaks at conferences on a variety of data management, data architecture, and data warehousing topics.

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