The Blueprint for Developing a Top-Tier Data Team

Explore best practices for putting together a data team that drives business impact.

July 8, 2024
Kirk Hlavka
Kirk Hlavka
Director, Growth Data and Product Led Sales, Amplitude
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Without a data team, your organization risks operating with incomplete or isolated information. A data team ensures you make the best decisions with all the information available rather than just what a few individuals might have uncovered ad hoc.

To move fast as a business, it’s important that everyone moves in the same direction at the same time. That means you want to have a high velocity of data-driven decision-making. A high-performing data team—one that is collaborative, motivated, and deeply engaged—provides the trustworthy data needed to make confident, well-informed decisions quickly. They prevent the paralysis that comes from uncertainty and data distrust.

As a director of product at Amplitude, and with previous experience as an analytics leader at HubSpot, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of a strong data team. I’ve also experienced and learned from challenges along the way. In this piece, I’ll take you through my best practices for developing a high-performing data team that’ll help drive strategic decisions in your organization.

Key takeaways
  • With a high-performing data team, your organization can quickly make well-informed decisions.
  • Hire analysts who are curious, good at communicating, and self-motivated.
  • Prioritize continuous learning by allocating specific times for development activities, even during busy periods.
  • Create an environment where team members believe they can have a real impact and are expected to grow through monthly target setting and reviews.
  • Use an analytics platform that helps with data governance, enabling your team to focus on analysis rather than untangling data.

Hire curious, self-motivated analysts

Often, hiring managers, particularly those hiring their first analyst, may be biased toward technical skills and not consider other factors. While technical skills are necessary, the true art of being a great data analyst lies in comprehending what someone is really asking for and then formulating an approach that meets that need. It’s much easier to teach technical skills than it is to teach empathy or executive communication.

When looking for analysts, look for people with a system-oriented skill-set—the ability to understand and manipulate raw data, combining it to generate new insights. Some level of experience with technologies like Python and SQL is also essential. But don’t forget to prioritize these three non-technical qualities:

  • Curiosity: A natural desire to explore problems and understand the underlying questions.
  • Strong communication: The ability to convey insights clearly and effectively to stakeholders.
  • Self-motivation: A drive to go beyond just answering the immediate question to delve into the core of what is being asked and uncover deeper insights.

Facilitate learning

If you’ve hired the right people, they’ll be naturally curious and eager to learn—your job is to guide and facilitate their learning.

During busy periods or crunch times, the natural inclination might be to prioritize immediate tasks over learning and development. However, neglecting your team’s growth during these times can lead to burnout, disengagement, and a stagnation of skills. Prioritizing continuous learning helps your team stay engaged and capable of tackling new challenges.

Regularly check in with your team members by asking questions such as, “What are you interested in learning next?” and “How can I help you grow?” Make it clear that you are there to support their development as much as their contributions to the team’s success.

Work with each team member to create a personal development plan. Identify their areas of interest and set achievable learning goals that align with their roles and aspirations. Allocate specific times for learning and development activities. This could be through weekly training sessions, workshops, or dedicated learning hours. Give your team access to the necessary resources, such as online courses, books, and seminars, to facilitate their learning.

Give your team control over outcomes

To build a high-performing team, it’s crucial to foster self-motivated, autonomous individuals who feel empowered and supported. Employees who feel like they’re not learning, exploring, or making a difference will get stagnant, bored, and unsatisfied. So create an environment where team members believe they can have a real impact and are expected to grow.

My manager at HubSpot implemented an effective approach to this. He ran very simple monthly reviews that focused on goals in three areas:

  • Deliverables for the organization: Identify one or two key deliverables for the teams you support.
  • Team contribution: Outline one or two ways you can contribute to the growth of the analyst team.
  • Personal growth: Set one or two goals for your own growth and development.

We set these goals, wrote them down, and reviewed them monthly with our manager. We would discuss what was achieved, what got sidetracked by other tasks, and how to better support personal growth in the future. The framework made performance reviews straightforward and growth conversations meaningful.

Prevent your team from becoming a ticket factory

One of the fastest ways to burn out your data team and diminish their curiosity and engagement is to treat them like a queue. They are only allowed to check requests that come in off the list without being able to prioritize or push back based on the potential of an analysis. This leads to a scenario where the team becomes focused solely on clearing tickets rather than on the value and impact of their work.

Give your analysts the autonomy to prioritize their tasks based on potential impact rather than just responding to all incoming requests in order. Position analysts as partners to the teams they work with. Empower them to open up discussions when analysis requests come in so they can suggest alternative approaches that may lead to more useful insights overall.

Encourage your team to avoid setting goals based solely on the number of analyses completed. Instead, focus on the impact and value of their work. Measure and celebrate success by how the insights generated from their analyses are used to drive strategic decisions, improve processes, or achieve business goals.

Empower your team with Amplitude

Analysts battling with incomplete, messy data split across multiple tools will not be doing their best work. They’ll spend more time untangling and cleansing data and less time aggregating and synthesizing important business insights. Empower your team to spend more time on work that drives impact with the right digital analytics platform.

Amplitude offers no-code data governance and flexibility to merge duplicate events, rename property values, build custom events, and transform historical data. Your team can correct implementation mistakes, ensure cleaner insights, and focus on delivering high-impact analyses—without relying on engineers.

Get started with Amplitude for free today.

About the Author
Kirk Hlavka
Kirk Hlavka
Director, Growth Data and Product Led Sales, Amplitude
Kirk is the director of growth data and product led sales at Amplitude. Previously, Kirk spent eight years at HubSpot.

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