Thursday, January 12, 2017

Product Managers Could Explain Data Science Results In Plain English

One of the key responsibilities of a product manager working with a data science team could be to articulate the results of a data science project in plain English to other team members and stakeholders. I take the following approach to do this.

First, I request the data science team to aim for a small success within three months of work. In collaboration with the data scientists and a subject matter expert, I create a concept story (1) that outlines the specific results we aim to achieve. We aim for modest results in a short period rather than aim for very ambitious results in a year (4).

Second, I sit down and have a conversation with one of the data scientists (2) to understand the results of the data science project. I do this during the research phase of the project as soon as the team reaches the projects desired research goals (3). The data scientist will usually share a data file with the results of the data science project. I normally request the data scientist to point out the top three highlights of the research. We then verbalize the results and convert the results into a plain english sentence in a short work session. For example, in a data science project to match data sets, the plain English sentence might say "We were able to improve the match rate between dataset A and dataset B from about 2000 to about 10,000." I then build on the sentence by stating what it means for an end user. For example, the plain English statement might be "When a person looks at a doctor, she is five times more likely to see a hospital affiliation compared to before."

Third, I provide a screen shot of the application area where the data manifests itself to make the data easier to understand for all team members and stakeholders.

A product manager who takes on these responsibilities in the data product team can play a meaningful role (4). It is also a good way to gain credibility not only with the data scientists but also with stakeholders who may not always have a data science background. It might take 6 months and a couple of successful releases for the data scientists and stakeholders to appreciate the role of a product manager. Don't let that stop you. Keep at it and you will succeed.


1. I might share a sample concept story in a future post, if possible.
2. Experienced data scientists are good at articulating the results achieved.
3. Data science research outcome is later turned into scalable code by a data engineering team.
4. Overstating the scope and impact of a data science project is a common mistake.

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