According to Thomas Redman and Roger Hoerl, authors of a recent HBR article, “In a headlong rush into advanced data science, big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, too many companies have ignored ‘small data.’” The article goes on to stress that this is a missed opportunity, as small data projects can drive numerous gains for employees at every level of the organization and also lay the foundation for a robust data analytics culture.

Redman and Hoerl describe small data projects as tightly focused and relying on basic analytics methods accessible to all. They believe a 40-person department could easily complete 20 small data projects a year, and state that these initiatives typically yield financial benefits of $10,000 to $250,000 annually per project.

Sound good? Read on for a few tips on getting started:

  • Lead by example: The authors suggest, “Personally lead at least one small data project with your direct reports every year.” In addition to empowering others to put data to work, this will also ensure that managers and executives understand small data and are better able to spot opportunities in the future. This, in turn, will lead to a more pervasive small data culture and ultimately set the organization up for success with larger-scale analytics programs.
  • Define your area of expertise: As people grow more familiar with small data projects, Redman and Hoerl recommend that employees hone their skills in a particular area so that they become the expert on that discipline within their department, and also work to share this knowledge throughout the organization.
  • Provide training: Because many small data projects can be completed entirely by non-IT roles, it’s critical that training be a key part of these initiatives. It’s important to explain the project’s goals and analytics fundamentals and provide practical examples of how these can be applied within the individual department or discipline at hand.

As the authors state, “Small data projects build the organizational data muscle that helps the entire company learn what it takes to succeed with data, gain needed skills, build confidence, and breed the kind of culture that big data demands.” They also note that given the fear many individuals have toward automation, participating in these small data projects can help enable everyone to become more data literate and conquer their fears. 

You can read more about the value of small data in the HBR piece here, and also check out this previous APEX of Innovation post on establishing a pervasive data culture here.

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