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Statistics is a team sport

AstrosWhether you’re a scientist, an engineer, a researcher, a statistician, data analyst, or some other subject matter expert, the more challenging problems typically require a collection of subject matter experts to build the most useful models, achieve the greatest insight and create the most value.

Many organizations don’t see statistics as a team sport. As a result, their quantitative talent is often underutilized, and many decisions may suffer. Under new leadership, the Houston Astros have evolved their culture to make more strategic use of data and analysis.

Sig Mejdal joined the Houston Astros in 2012 as Director of Decision Sciences. By complementing traditional evaluations with analytics, the team changed the way they choose players. They’ve made a number of changes based on data analysis and have been patient to see some good results. With the playoffs in sight this year, they even forced Taylor Swift to change her tour schedule!

SigSig started out as a biomathematician at NASA where he was part of an analytics team studying astronauts' sleep patterns. There, the respect for data and analysis was a given, but not so in baseball until more recently. Since leaving NASA, Sig has effected positive change at two baseball organizations and is a valued team player.

No matter what kind of team you’re on, making better decisions comes down to asking the right questions and having the right data to inform your decisions. Change is the one constant, so we need to revisit what questions we ask and what data we are collecting fairly frequently. Are you measuring what matters, and have things changed sufficiently for you to reassess the effectiveness of those measurements?

Taking that a step further: Are you trying new things? As Woody Allen once said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” In many sports, such as basketball, feeder teams are being used as a testing ground to see which strategies and ideas are successful and should be adopted more broadly. When I worked for The Southland Corporation (now 7-Eleven Corporation), we would do experiments in small well-matched groups of stores to assess effectiveness. If successful, we would implement these strategies in other stores — if not, we would tweak the experiment or move on to the next experiment.

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, Sig has some interesting things to say about measurement issues and challenges in a changing world and how to influence organizational culture to take greater advantage of statistical insights. To learn more, you can join us for a live chat with Sig on Analytically Speaking on Aug. 12.

As with all Analytically Speaking interviews, you can view the webcast in the archives at your convenience. We hope you’ll join!

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