Data Science – the Key is in the Storytelling

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Big_Data_Innovation_Summit_BostonI recently found a thought-provoking piece in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network entitled “Data is Worthless if You Don’t Communicate It” by Tom Davenport. This article supports what I’ve been harping on in the blogosphere for a long while now – every data set tells a story and it is the job of the data scientist to be its mouthpiece. Gone are the days when you could just print a report with columns of numbers to provide business insight. As the article says:

Too many managers are, with the help of their analyst colleagues, simply compiling vast databases of information that never see the light of day, or that only get disseminated in auto-generated business intelligence reports. As a manager, it’s not your job to crunch the numbers; …  it is your job to communicate them. Never make the mistake of assuming that the results will “speak for themselves.”

Also included in the article is a useful framework used by the data science group at Intuit for communicating about each analysis:

  1. My understanding of the business problem
  2. How I will measure the business impact
  3. What data is available
  4. The initial solution hypothesis
  5. The solution
  6. The business impact of the solution

Notice how the list starts with an understanding of the business problem! This is critical when approaching a new data science project. So many times I’ve witnessed failed projects because the patron doesn’t have a grasp of the problem to solve.

It’s great to see an article on this subject matter in the HBR. Hopefully more managers will take note of how best to insure the success of big data projects.


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