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Working on a Data Strategy? You’d benefit from a Lurp.

Years ago at NCO academy in Grafenwohr Germany, I met a soldier who was part of a Lurp team – Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. He shed light on the Lurp experience for me. Lurps were often heavily-armed teams moving deep into enemy territory, but sometimes only a couple lightly-armed soldiers gathered intel. His mission was often simply to identify and classify targets. Some targets were high-value, some low, and others negative. Lurps prized negative value targets. These were decoys placed to attract attention and resources away from the high-value targets. Upon their identification, strategic resources could immediately be used elsewhere.

In the world of data science and strategy, I’m a Data Lurp. Here’s why Data Lurps are extremely valuable to a company’s data strategy.

Data Lurps are cheap. The first investment in a Data Lurp is identifying the right person for the job. A developer or business analyst usually fits right in. They have to be great team players because, unlike military Lurps, they talk to their recon targets. The only cost of that investment is the Data Lurp’s time.

Like their military counterparts, Data Lurps will flush out high-value targets and identify decoys. In my first week on a new project, I started by asking about how two databases were used. Both of these were databases previously earmarked for transformation to the new data platform. Both decoys. One database was simply no longer used. The main user said to me, “Oh, I just use their new website instead of downloading the data all the time.” The second database loaded from a website on a weekly basis. 10 minutes of Lurping identified an alternative API. I wrote a program to use that API in 15 minutes and delivered it to the users. Both targets were cardboard cutouts; negative value decoys removed from the target list.

Data Lurps provide immediate low-cost value. An experienced programmer or business analyst can quickly solve previously unidentified easy problems. While this does not fit into the data strategy model, don’t neglect its value. This is the equivalent of the military Lurp saving a kitten while on recon. Sometimes the value of providing quick solutions is just too easy to ignore. Recently, I’ve been asked multiple times for data insights and reports that already exist! Either I had created them for someone else or they were a simple merge of existing reports. The lesson: the Data Lurp needs to identify quick hits without sidetracking the strategic mission.

Note: Data Lurps, especially if they are programmers (like me), will be lured by shiny objects that promise fun programming opportunities like machine learning, plotting in R and forecasting. I must confess…I fail at this. I’d put an Adaboost machine-learning algorithm on a sandwich if I could. So this is the word of caution…don’t let your Data Lurp go full Nerd!   

Lurps – data and military alike – will be grateful for the opportunity to do this type of work. Moreover, there is a distinct sense of pride in being part of a valuable and rare group. Motivated programmers and business analysts love autonomous, fact-finding, and results-oriented work. A Lurp may have aspirations for becoming a full Data Scientist; the Lurping process is a very clear and effective method to achieve this goal.

Users see Data Lurps as liaisons. Unlike their military counterparts, the embedded nature of the Data Lurp makes them good business liaisons. Data strategies are often seen as a ‘force-from-above’ that care little about day-to-day business realities. Interaction with on the ground Data Lurps will win over the hearts and minds of skeptics.

Perhaps best about Data Lurps is their parallel nature. Strategic visions and goals are in no way compromised by the Data Lurp’s mission. They perform the tactical maneuvers that enhance the overall data strategy. They help the strategic vision of the data team with intel and user communication.  Even better…if the strategic mission doesn’t agree with the tactical mission’s recon reports, they don’t actually have to do anything with it. The strategic is not beholden to the tactical.

Data Lurps are the ground troops that drive data strategy.

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