Our First ADC Collective Week: a Day-to-Day Journal

Rik, Joel and Frank have always been convinced that allocating a significant amount of time to developing technical skills, such as modelling techniques, statistical methods and programming languages, team-working skills and maximising productivity will set them apart from other consulting firms. However, it was not until our strategy session in May 2018 that we realised it would be more effective to do this is in boosts, i.e. a longer and focused period of time, rather than allocating time in between our consulting projects, which resulted in the Amsterdam Data Collective (ADC) Weeks. In total, there are three such weeks: one for personal development, one to work on a special project with a small team and one to work on a project with the entire team. During the latter, the Collective Week, we focus on developing new skills and team building. Because it was such a great week, I was inspired to share my day-by-day journal.

Friday 23rd: check check, double check

As soon as we set foot on the property, we know that the location is perfect for our team week. Happy Balanz is located amongst farmhouses, next to the river IJssel, with nothing around to distract us. Most importantly, the place has everything we need: enough space, in- and outdoor games and the best hosts we could wish for, as we found out during the week. We quickly settle in and get together for our first check-in.

The first check-in on the first day of the first ADC Collective Week. We are with 11 team members, of whom three just joined the week before. This day is about connecting with each other to build a base of trust. Leoni and Rena, from Over The Moon, facilitate the afternoon. Alternated with games of football, we share visions, ideas on good teamwork and reflect on our own role in teams. As we check out for the day, everyone agrees that this was a great start and a great way to speed up the integration of our three new colleagues.

  

Saturday 24th: ready, set, ouch my head

Tired faces at breakfast, because last night was long. For a large part of the team, the period before Collective Week was quite tough due to a combination of ambitious goals and tight deadlines. But the deadlines were made and the results to be proud of, which resulted in an appropriate celebration with a few or more beers. Luckily, despite a poor night’s sleep, everybody feels energised for the coming days.

In the build-up to Collective Week, we decided to develop our skills by building a macro-economic scenario generator, emphasising visualisation. We split up the team in three sub-teams: Modelling, Visualisation and Writing, with each team deciding on its own deliverables for the week. This morning, we share those deliverables, agree on which software to use and align our tasks. Then, ready, set, sprint!

Sunday 25th: visuals and models

To make sure that we allocate our time as efficiently as possible during the week, Raffaele collected all input data and stored it in a database prior to commencement. As a result, team Visualisation can start experimenting with different software packages in R and Python straight away, and new data discovery and presentation tricks are discovered very quickly. Yesterday, team Modelling did some theoretical preparation. They want to build a robust framework that uncovers the state of the economy and wellbeing (economy plus happiness indicators) for as many countries as possible, for every moment in time. And with it, simulate future states. Today is about setting up the necessary calibration routines and brushing up on Kalman Filter theory.

Monday 26th: team modeling isn’t sprinting

Day four of the ADC Collective Week, which means that we are halfway through the week. After a bit of frustration, team Modelling is back on schedule, having learnt an important lesson: it is great to have a library of calibration routines, because it sucks to re-do something you have done before!

Team Visualisation, on the other hand, can produce results much quicker. During lunch, they present a plethora of graphs, plots and interactive interfaces; (almost) all very useful for showcasing our findings to clients in a compelling way. The third team, which I didn’t introduce yet, is the coolest team: team Writing. It is by pure coincidence that I happen to be on it, together with Rik, our Managing Director, and Ewout, our Recruiter. Our main goal for the week is to develop content for the new website, which you are currently looking at. Additionally, Ewout conducts multiple interviews, which are input for a ‘team scan’.

  

Tuesday 27th: workaholic evenings

On the one hand, the team realises that we only have two days left to achieve our goals for the week; on the other hand, this week has a marathon-feel to it. Everyone in the team is taking their energy management seriously, both during the day and at night: some evenings we go all out with wine and special beers, other nights we stick to non-alcoholic beverages. However, we all enjoy putting in some extra effort when it comes to getting our work done.

Even though the music is turned on at night and breaks are filled with hanging at the bar or playing a (good) game of darts, most of the team enjoy continuing their work in the evenings. This has taught me an important lesson about working in sprints: organise activities for the evenings, to make sure that working is not an option. So today, the latter part of the day is filled with biking, bowling and a pub quiz. And during the pub quiz, while the two teams go head-to-head, our Head of Research, Frank, reveals a hidden talent for guessing Top 2000 songs and pulls in the victory for his team.

Wednesday 28th: work hard, play often

Although the location is great, we do not have the luxury of standing-desks and end up sitting a lot. Because we anticipated this, every day we appoint two energy managers, to make sure that proper breaks are taken. They are also responsible for energisers during these breaks: brief exercises to encourage our brains to snap out of cruise control, and to stimulate blood circulation. Our energisers include running competitions, learning how to do a proper handstand or cartwheel, or how to juggle and taking walks to enjoy the surroundings. Most days, our schedule looks like this:

  • Check-in
  • 09:00 – 10:15 Sprint 
  • 10:15 – 10:30 Break 
  • 10:30 – 12:00 Sprint 
  • 12:00 – 13:00 Lunch 
  • 13:00 – 16:00 Sprint 
  • 16:00 – 16:30 Break 
  • 16:30 – 19:00 Sprint 
  • Check-out
  • 19:00 – 20:00 Dinner preperation
  • 20:00 – 22:00 Dinner
  • 22:00 – 00:00 Games / relaxing
  
Thursday 29th: three teams, a lot of things learned

Wrapping-up-day! The past few sprints, the teams aligned their results and this morning is about finetuning. From lunch onwards, it’s presentation time:

  • Team Visualisation, with Joel, Alexis, Hidde and Jaap, created a Shiny app with a library of static and interactive visuals. They also started a wiki-page to share code, instruction manuals and example visualisations.
  • Team Modelling, with Frank, Hashim, Faust and Raffaele, present what they learnt about using Kalman Filter, VAR and Fuzzy Logic models to generate macro-economic scenarios. They plan to add their code to the wiki. Additionally, they formulated concrete follow-up questions, which could potentially be answered by a thesis student.
  • Team Writing, with Rik, Merel and Ewout, present blogs, a whitepaper and components of the new website.
Friday 30th: to be repeated

I can tell that the team feels more connected. We know more about working together, our talents and pitfalls, built trust through open communication and had fun. This week felt like both hard work and vacation, with a bunch of smart and relaxed people. And one thing is clear, we can’t wait for another Collective Week in 2019.

Checking out!

 

For ADC Collective Week 2019 we take on pro bono projects. Are you a pioneer who has a lot of data but not the right resources to turn it into ground-breaking insights? If so, send me your proposal and we may be working together during our next Collective Week.