My first time project managing a group of analysts

by George Walker

Last week was the  first week of client projects at the data school. I bravely/foolhardily volunteered to be the first project manager for the team. We are using a scrum style project management methodology, breaking tasks up into chunks and iterating quickly on them. Most of the team hadn’t used it before so it was a learning experience for all of us.

What are we even doing?

Breaking up the task into chunks was definitely a challenging piece of work for a new team and inexperienced project manager but we tackled it well for our first time working together in this way. Our client gave us a dataset that was completely new to them, so it was a blessing and a curse that we had a great deal of flexibility to set and answer questions that interested us.

One method we used that worked well for us was to divide into pairs and by having a quick glance over the data write a couple of questions that we thought would be interesting to explore. Then for each pair to share that with the group and for others to add to and expand what the pair produced.



How long is it going to take?

Once we’d generated a big group of questions we started estimating how long each piece was going to take. This was another challenging task when some of us had only been using Tableau and Alteryx seriously for about a month.  We used a technique called planning poker where everyone was able to give estimates of expected effort and so we were able to reach consensus about the likely time it will take.

Our time estimates allowed us to size each job – for the bigger pieces we put 2 people on the team while the smaller sections had 1 person assigned to them

Not doing any work?

One of the things I struggled with as the team got stuck into the work was feeling like I was doing very little myself. At Andy Kriebal’s advice I hadn’t assigned myself any tasks initially. This proved useful as I was able to be a sounding board for the rest of the group and help them think through their individual analysis but felt frustrating when I had little to show for a days “work”.

Keeping the clients and the team happy

A key bit of work that I was doing was being the single point of contact between the team and the client. Having all questions and comment flow through me meant that our client always knew who to talk through. When we had issues with the data I was able to collate them all from the team and provide a summary to the client instead of bombarding them from each member of the team.

While the project was short and we didn’t encounter many difficulties, keeping the team happy was an important job as well. For this I highly recommend cookies

Lessons learnt

Some things that worked well for us:

Having the project manager facilitate the client meetings and planning sessions.

Not being fixed in stone on our outputs on day 1

Things we need to do better next time:

Creating lists of tasks to do rather than questions to answer

Create a story for our exploratory analysis sooner

Share findings with each other earlier

Create a style guide early in the process


Here’s to the next project

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