Whether it’s for internal projects or for helping our clients do their best work, my colleagues and I are all about bringing along the right tool for the job. As analytics consultants, our clients expect us to give them insight on picking the best analytics tech stack, but we also bring thoughtful recommendations for tools and techniques for project management and communication that helps their data teams excel.
Opportunities for communication
Effective, valued data teams do more than just respond to requests. They work towards a strategy that’s aligned with their company’s near- and long-term goals and ensure that colleagues across the company understand their value. Where the earliest stage of data capabilities focuses on accessing data and sharing insights, smoothly progressing to the next stage depends on thoughtful communication.
Before selecting a set of tools, it’s worth thinking about the breadth of communication the data team is responsible for in terms of frequency and goal. More frequently occurring communication that is only relevant for a day or two might be fine in an instant message stream, but important decisions might need to ultimately be recorded elsewhere for ease of reference. I’ve summarized some of the types of information you may want to consider in the table below.
Information that must be tracked and communicated by data team
Different tools for different tasks
While there’s a broad range across frequency and focus, much of the communication that needs to happen occurs in three core areas: messaging, task management, and ongoing reference.
It’s probably impossible to completely escape email, but we encourage teams to have a lighter weight, more interactive medium for the more ephemeral communication and knowledge touch points outlined in the previous section. Quick Q&A and daily status updates work well in instant messaging tools, particularly those that allow for channels or otherwise categorizing the communication topic.
Our go-to: Slack
Why we like it: Integrates with many other pieces of software, including others on our list; fun and interactive
Add go-to channels for data resources. Here are some of our favorites: #data-team, for the data team to coordinate with each other; #data, for interactions between the data team and stakeholders; #standups, as a place to catch up on and engage with granular status updates at a glance, #notifications, as a place for all of the information related to the the data team that gets generated by the various apps your company uses (e.g. comments from a task management tool, alerts from a BI tool).
Bring reports and data to where people are working. Tools like Looker, Mode, and Sisense for Cloud Teams (formerly Periscope Data) have integrations set up that allow you to preview links and to schedule reports to be sent directly to specific channels.
Build good daily standup habits. We’re huge fans of the Status Hero Slack app (and its browser-based features), because it makes for a streamlined daily experience for those who are reporting, while offering useful summary reporting for managers. We especially love that each person reporting can set their own reminder time, since the Brooklyn Data team and our clients are distributed across multiple time zones.
Add your task management tool. Many popular tools, including our favorite, Jira, all have integrations that add context to links, make it easy to generate tasks from Slack, and make it easy to keep up with any comments or status updates.
Task management tools
Task or issue management software is critical for collaborative, communicative data teams. In addition to helping the data team plan, track, and deliver work, tools in this category help ensure that ideas, requests, and suggestions from stakeholders don’t slip through the cracks. Depending on your setup, these tools can also be used as a place for the data team and stakeholders to communicate about a particular request and as a place for stakeholders across your organization to see status and priority without having to send disruptive, one-off emails or instant messages.
Our go-to: Jira
Why we like it: Lightweight enough to get started quickly but flexible enough to handle the demands of data projects; free for small teams
Start with the next-gen projects. They aren’t as powerful as classic Jira, if you’re used to that, but their flexible nature makes it much easier to get teams started than the classic projects.
Connect Jira to your version control tool (e.g. GitHub). It’s a small step but can make getting the full context that much easier for reviewers or for when you want to revisit past work further down the road.
Plan how you want to triage incoming requests. Jira is great for helping your data team work efficiently, but, like many tools in this category, it can be a bit tricky to find a way to seamlessly integrate into processes that are easy for your stakeholders and manageable for your team. Despite this challenge, we find that its functionality for data teams makes using Jira worthwhile and the many integrations with common business tools can help bridge the gap.
Documentation and reference might not seem like the most obvious communication touch point, but having a place for frequently needed guidance and a record of key decisions can facilitate operational efficiency within your team. To unlock the most value, it’s worth advocating for budget for stakeholders to have access to the wiki as well. You can get by with your existing document storage system, but features like metadata tagging, improved search, rich embedding (PDFs, slideshows, videos), and ease of linking between related items make a purpose-built reference tool worth the investment.
Our go-to: Confluence
Why we like it: Lightweight enough to get started quickly but flexible enough to handle the demands of data projects; free for small teams; great tagging and search functionality, especially compared to typical document shared drives
Set up a killer homepage. Consider what your users need most, whether it's just you as a team of one, multiple team members, or stakeholders; use that to make it easy to access or create the most commonly needed items, like setting up a data request from a template or getting to the most popular FAQ answers.
Be thoughtful about how you organize the data team space, as that influences how easy it is use. A helpful starter structure might include these top-level folders: Meeting notes, Analysis summaries, Data team operations, FAQ.
Clarify what’s in progress versus finalized. When a published page has useful information but is still a work in progress, it can be helpful to add an info panel at the top of the page to explain what the page can be used for and what still needs to be added. This makes it easier for anyone who’s interested to contribute to improvements and to understand appropriate usage. You can also give it a special tag, like ‘updates-needed’ to make it easy to find pages that need maintenance.
Bringing it all together
Take a look at the summary table below to see how these core activities (messaging, task management, and reference) should pair with communication focus and frequency. You’ll notice that the wiki or reference tool is a second option in multiple cases. If you find that the same concept comes up in multiple conversations, you may want to move it to your wiki, and a higher level summary of what was delivered and its impact may be better suited for the wiki than for your task management tool.
Suggested tools by communication frequency and focus
Making it work for you
The right set of tools for your team should address communication frequency, communication focus, and the core activities of messaging, task management, and reference. I’ve shared the favorites from the team here at Brooklyn Data Co., but, as you’re evaluating what works best for your team, you should consider other factors as well. Your team or company project management approach, security expectations, what you can get financial support for, and how well the software will integrate with tools your company has already invested in can make a big difference in whether a tool is worth setting up and maintaining. Regardless of tool, nailing communications can make your data team more streamlined, effective, and valued.
Want to trade notes on your favorite tools or share your biggest questions about project management for data teams? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!