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Going Pro in Data Science by Jerry Overton

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Chapter 6. How to Be Agile

I lead a research team of data scientists responsible for discovering insights that lead to market and competitive intelligence for our company. We are a busy group. We get questions from all different areas of the company and it’s important to be agile.

The nature of data science is experimental. You don’t know the answer to the question asked of you—or even if an answer exists. You don’t know how long it will take to produce a result or how much data you need. The easiest approach is to just come up with an idea and work on it until you have something. But for those of us with deadlines and expectations, that approach doesn’t fly. Companies that issue you regular paychecks usually want insight into your progress.

This is where being agile matters. An agile data scientist works in small iterations, pivots based on results, and learns along the way. Being agile doesn’t guarantee that an idea will succeed, but it does decrease the amount of time it takes to spot a dead end. Agile data science lets you deliver results on a regular basis and it keeps stakeholders engaged.

The key to agile data science is delivering data products in defined time boxes—say, two- to three-week sprints. Short delivery cycles force us to be creative and break our research into small chunks that can be tested using minimum viable experiments (Figure 6-1). We deliver something tangible after almost every sprint for our stakeholders to review and give us feedback. Our stakeholders ...

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