Introducing Data Science at Viacom: Where to Start?

In my new role as Corporate Vice President of Data Strategy at Viacom, I have joined a small group of data experts affectionately known as “data mercenaries.” Our primary focus is to explore opportunities for scaling data science and data platforms throughout the organization. With many areas ripe for data superpowers, a key question is what to work on and why?

This transition marks an exciting departure from my previous experiences leading and building consumer-focused teams. The potential for growth and impact is immense. In addition to taking on specific data projects and products, we are entrusted with the responsibility of optimizing Viacom’s overall data efforts and assets. In this blog post, I will provide insights into our initial steps toward achieving this goal and share the process we have implemented.

Defining Work with Precision and Consistency: Our first priority is establishing a robust process for defining the work undertaken by each data group. This pre-work phase offers numerous benefits that are both extensive and significant. By adopting a shared methodology, we can document the goals, expectations, and return on investment (ROI) for each project. This levels the playing field for all teams, ensuring a common understanding, garnering buy-in, and securing the necessary support. Now, let’s delve into the details of our process:

  1. Problem Statement: We begin by crafting a concise, S.M.A.R.T. sentence that effectively defines the scope of the project, expected outcome metrics, and delivery timeframe. Achieving consensus on this statement can be a time-consuming process, often taking several days.
  2. Context: Next, we provide an overview of the project’s landscape and rationale. This context is crucial for understanding why we have undertaken the project.
  3. Success Criteria: To validate the project’s value, we establish measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). These criteria serve as benchmarks and ensure that the project moves forward with clear objectives.
  4. Scope: We outline the project’s initial starting point and identify components that may be deferred for future consideration. This delineation helps in defining project boundaries and prioritizing tasks.
  5. Decision Makers: Identifying the individuals with decision-making authority is essential for effective project management and implementation.
  6. Stakeholders: We adopt the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) approach to clearly define roles and responsibilities. This identifies the project owner, support personnel, and those who need to be consulted or kept informed.
  7. Constraints: We identify both movable and immovable roadblocks or challenges that may impede project progress.

Condensing the Information for Widespread Understanding: We consolidate the above information into a concise, one-page document. This document is then shared widely across the organization, ensuring that it is accessible to both senior managers and junior data engineers. By doing so, we create a clear vision of our objectives and provide a measurable framework for assessing progress. This practice also enables us to analyze various projects and allocate resources efficiently.

Continuous Improvement: Although we are in the early stages of implementing this process, we are continually learning and refining our estimation methods to enhance the accuracy and quality of our work. The impact of this alignment initiative has already generated excitement within the organization, as the newfound clarity fuels enthusiasm and a shared sense of purpose.

At Viacom, our commitment to data strategy is unwavering. By implementing a comprehensive process to define project work, we are fostering alignment, clarity, and accountability across teams. Through collaborative efforts, we aim to optimize our resources and unlock the full potential of our data-driven initiatives. As we navigate this transformative journey, we remain dedicated to continuous improvement and embracing new opportunities for growth and innovation.