Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who's Your Analyst?

Teams, like all organizations, can easily become a group of silos. Each group is so focused on their tasks that is very difficult to make time to interact with other groups. This is usually not a good structure because one hand then rarely knows what the other is doing and instead of one team focused on complementing each other, the groups become independent actors focused only on doing what they do best. To put this in basketball terms, most organizations have a bunch of Allen Iversons - great at what they do, but not focused on the overall team goal. From an analytics perspective this kind of structure can lead not just to inefficient management, but poor analysis and often wasted time and money.

As teams look to expand their analytic capability, it is tempting to have a draft analyst, a pro player analyst, a game strategy analyst etc. and have each of these analysts sit under a manager in those departments. This is a initially seems like the proper solution and analyts become submerged in a functional area that they're supposed to become expert in and on a daily basis assist those that are trying to utilize and learn the information generated by analyst. This structure leads to two types of inefficiencies as mentioned above. The best organizations have, instead of putting an analyst function within a department, created a department of analytics that acts principally as a consulting group for internal clients.

Businesses that have structure themselves this way have generally found that analysts are able to communicate with each other on a more regular basis, allowing for more sharing of techniques and creative brainstorming around challenging analytic problems. Additionally, within the context of a sports team, having a central analytic consulting group allows for consistency in the language and style in which the analysis is presented.

The consistency of the message is particularly important in an organization that is trying to incorporate a type of information that it has not utilized in the past. If every analyst has their own style and manner of presenting data, than instead of one core institutional language, each function within the team will have their own language. On team where, eventually the scouts, coaches, trainers etc all have to get on the same page, having one core analytic language means that no one has to interpret between the groups.

An additional benefit of this structure is the ability to rapidly and efficiently deploy the analytic capacity within the organization. Different, and predicatable times during the season, different departments may require more analytic capability than their normal baseline needs. For example, as the draft approaches, the amateur personnel department may have a greater need for analysts than they do in the months after the draft or coaches may want extra analytic fire power if the team makes the playoffs.

To be fair though, most sports teams have yet to reach the point that this is an issue. The analytic capabilities are at this point mostly one or two individuals who do often work as an internal consulting group. But as teams begin to invest more in their capabilities in this area, these issues become inevitable and must be carefully thought through. Happily for those starting up now though, much of the research in this area has been done and the results are clear.

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