5 Habits to Manage Remote Data Analytics Teams (or Any Other Remote Teams)
Like many companies, EveryMundo has been working remotely for more than two years. During this time, my team, Data Analytics, has grown stronger, improved our processes, and produced great data products. Originally, the Data Analytics team at EveryMundo was located in Miami, but now some team members work from different states and countries. Our team currently consists of a data product manager, a product tracking manager, data analysts, data quality analysts, developers, and QA, including new team members that we have onboarded remotely.
I attribute our success to the following habits of our Data Analytics team (and they also hold true for other remote teams):
Habit #1: Roadmap and Goals
At the beginning of each quarter, the product management team presents the product roadmap for the next quarter with updates on what will come next and later. This gives us a clear vision of what we are working on.
In addition to the product roadmap, we have departmental and individual 36Y goals that also get updated on a quarterly basis. 36Y goals stand for 3-month, 6-month, and yearly goals. These include goals that make our department better, such as creating new data lineage documentation or improving data quality alerts.
We work on the roadmap items and goals in bi-weekly sprints. Before we actually start a new sprint, we always like to do a small retrospective where we celebrate wins and team members get to present what they have worked on to their colleagues, but also communicate opportunities to make the next sprint more successful. This allows for free communication between the team members where we can learn from each other, ask questions, and provide feedback to each other for improvement. After agreeing on the goals for the next sprint, we get to work.
Having a clear roadmap, departmental and individual goals, and bi-weekly check-ins on our goals allows us to be very aligned on what we want to achieve. This is also the starting point for team members to schedule any additional meetings to work out details or collaborate, but otherwise work autonomously from wherever they are.
Habit #2: Open Communication
During a sprint, we have different modes of communication to keep in touch with each other and replicate an in-person work environment because it is not just about efficiency and productivity, but also about the human element and motivation.
First, we have a scheduled morning stand-up every two days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) that gives us the opportunity to check in on how everyone is doing, discuss in a team any questions that may have come up, highlight blockers, address bugs, prioritize items, and just make sure that the sprint is moving along at an expected pace.
During the day, we communicate with each other through Google Chat and leave formal comments on the Jira tickets themselves.\
As mentioned previously, meetings are scheduled in order to solve a specific problem or exchange information. It is important to make sure that everyone is included in the discussion and it should be the responsibility of the person who called the meeting to make sure that everyone is participating. Ensuring the participation of everyone can sometimes be more challenging in an online world, but is not impossible by simply calling the different attendants’ names, for example.
To schedule a meeting, we have developed a meeting framework at EveryMundo, where the mornings are reserved for stand-ups, recurring meetings, and intradepartmental or team meetings/work. Two afternoons of the week are blocked for no meetings to allow for “deep work” and the other afternoons are blocked for interviews (we are in growth mode at EveryMundo), as well as collaborative and brainstorming meetings across departments. This meeting framework makes it easier to find time for collaborative work across departments, block time for deep work, combat meetings and Zoom fatigue, and ensure predictability and preparedness for meetings.
In a remote world, we still value face-to-face time to build camaraderie. In the Data Analytics team, we like to organize every quarter a team-building activity that lets us get together. For example, we have done a handful of escape rooms, and archery tried exotic food and organized an outdoor barbecue. Of course, during the pandemic, we are following all social distancing rules.
Habit #3: Processes
The key to working in a remote team is having clear, centralized, and documented processes. It also facilitates onboarding new team members because training becomes a lot easier when everyone knows what the steps are to achieve a certain objective. In addition, the documentation of these processes can be referenced at any time, and updated when needed. As a result, less face time is needed to transmit the processes. Instead, that time can be used to solve actual problems.
For example, one of our key processes is ensuring data quality and completeness which involves multiple departments and sometimes even the customer. Everyone needs to be aware of all the steps involved in the process as there are different checkpoints and data quality issues can be raised at different points. However, because there are so many nuances involved, having written documentation that can be referenced is key.
We use Confluence as our internal wiki and everything in the company from workflows, onboarding processes, and product documentation to customer information is documented there.
Habit #4: Documentation
As a product-centric, data-driven company, data is core to what we do and data becomes our language. Therefore, it is very important for us to keep centralized documentation about the data standards and data lineage.
Data standards are the rules by which data are described, collected, and used. In order to share, exchange, and understand data, we must standardize the format as well as the meaning. For instance, we need a common understanding of what the object name should be in order to designate if a flight is ROUND-TRIP or ONE-WAY. Should it be called route type, journey type, or flight type? So we developed emDataStandards. emDataStandards are airline-specific data standards developed by EveryMundo. They are an evolution of the IATA NDC data standards. Now, the emDataStandards are an Open Source Project on GitHub and anyone in the world can benefit from or contribute to them. In case you were wondering, we use journey type to indicate if a flight is ROUND-TRIP or ONE-WAY.
Furthermore, we collect a lot of data at EveryMundo. For example, FareNet (FN) is EveryMundo’s proprietary script that collects user search data from our customers’ internet booking engines (IBE) in real time. Every time users search for flight fares, FareNet captures the search results (without collecting any personally identifiable information). From this data, we create various tables, endpoints, and dashboards to solve different problems. This results in a large number of data assets.
In order to improve data discovery, accessibility, and management and make it easy to understand what each data asset is about, increase data recycling, and understand dependencies, we are working on cataloging our data assets. In the future, we are aiming to automate this process.
The habit of documenting relationships between key company assets is still true for the success of other remote teams. In our case, it just happens to be that data standards and data assets are most important for us.
Habit #5: Security
In order for our team to work remotely while guaranteeing data security, we have several security policies in place at EveryMundo.
For example, in addition to sophisticated system monitoring and logging, we use two-factor authentication, a password manager, and whitelist home IP addresses on an individual basis to access our database with each individual having their own token and password.
Defining a clear strategy of how to keep the data secure even outside the office, makes us comfortable with team members working remotely.
More than ever, while working remotely, it is important to keep up the values of our company. Even though we are working remotely, every touch point we have with each other through a meeting, chat, email, or ticket is an opportunity to emphasize teamwork, empowerment, execution, good communication, learning opportunities, diversity in thought and experience, and openness to change. That’s what makes our team successful.