ODSC East 2022 Keynote: Ken Jee on Bridging the Gap Between Data Scientists and Decision Makers

That feeling of disconnect between you, your data team, and your leaders can be frustrating. It’s a common problem within the data community that can derail any project and leave the lines of communication and most importantly trust in jeopardy.

With the growing scale of data science entering almost every facet of business life, data scientists must bridge that gap between them and decision-makers — even if it looks less like a gap and more like a canyon. In Ken Jee’s Keynote at ODSC East, he provides amazing insights on how to tackle this problem and leave with a clear flow of communication. This roadmap can be vital for any data team.

Ken Jee, Z by HP Global Data Science Ambassador and Head of Data Science at Scouts Consulting Group LLC, made the point that we must first understand how decision-makers communicate. Most use what’s called BLUF (Bottom line upfront). The basic premise of BLUF is you start from the decision and make your way back towards the process. It’s used to enforce both speed and clarity. Allowing optimal management of time so priorities are addressed. For most who are unfamiliar with this method, this can be an extremely difficult method of communication.

Ken Jee pointed at the reasoning for the use of this method’s time constraints. “In business and the military, time is at a premium. If you’re the first to enter a new market, the first to release a new feature, you’re privy to what is known as the ‘first mover advantage’. With that said, it’s clear why both this is used in business and within the military.

Another advantage of BLUF lies in clarity. This method forces communicators to be extremely clear and concise with what they’re saying through the hierarchy. Overall though, for those unfamiliar with the method, it can leave you feeling boxed in. That’s because BLUF has a specific disadvantage that is difficult for data scientists to overcome if they’re unfamiliar with it. BLUF tends to gloss over both important details and context, and as every data professional knows, expectations from decision-makers come from being able to understand expectations, details, and context.

This is why developing a strong set of soft skills is still paramount for any data leader. No matter how well you’re able to execute a project pipeline or deliver results if you’re left unable to communicate expectations, needs, and other important variables, the decision-maker will feel left out of the loop with a knowledge gap. Which in turn risks passive aggression between both parties and overall sub-optimum outcomes for any project. So the question is, is there a best practice that can be used to overcome this gap? According to Ken Jee, absolutely.

Business Abstracts are designed to communicate in a way that speaks to the BLUF style of business leaders. In short, it speaks their lingo. Providing them with a summarization upfront with room to spread out important information to provide context. First, you offer a scope of objectives, then explanations of the methodology used, results, conclusions, and finally recommendations. The benefits of these abstracts also apply to data scientists. As Jee explained, if you are putting together an abstract and are dealing with many assumptions, then it’s very likely that your project should be revisited before moving forward to a decision-maker.

Though the abstract gives you a great roadmap, Jee makes an important point about other gaps you must keep an eye on. The greatest of them all is complexity. As Jee explained, it would go a long way in assisting you and your team’s ability to connect with a decision-maker if the decision-maker has a basic understanding of some of the simpler concepts related to data science. While you don’t want to present a massively dry report filled with lingo only data scientists tend to know, you also want to empower your decision-maker with a bit of knowledge so they can follow the abstract with some independence.

As we can see, even though technology and the scale of data science are rapidly advancing, soft skills are still in high demand. The ability to speak the language of the decision-makers, see how they view problems, and finally present the results of your project can go a long way in keeping everyone on the same page. In all, it can keep your team from unreasonable expectations that come from a knowledge gap while reducing agitation from a lack of understanding between the two parties. Ken Jee’s Keynote is a great way to learn or even refresh these important skills that allow you to communicate with the decision-makers you want to guide.

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