Causes of Machine Learning’s productivity problem: Metrics
Published on LinkedIn 2022-01-20
The last two parts of the series: Metrics and Processes are unquestionably interlinked. I think the source of Process problems often originate from a blind spot left by not defining appropriate metrics, so I start there.
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“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” said Peter Drucker
Which area is better suited to this quote than the purely data-driven, data-fuelled, data everything Machine Learning?
Yet, people regularly start projects with a hazy idea of where they should go and what they should do. This is even more prevalent in POC thinking, where the host is not convinced of success. Hence, until there is some “progress”, the organisation refuses to think through how the project will affect users (and the business itself).
Failure modes in Data Science projects
About a year ago, I created a repository of articles about how DS/ML projects fail and categorised them into five major and many subcategories:
Organisational: Leadership, Employees, Infrastructure
Intermediate: Legal/Privacy/Bias/Security, Transparency/Communication
Product Planning: Business Value, Specification
Product One-Off: Project Execution, Data, Modelling
Product Ongoing: Operations
As you can see, these cover all aspects of a project. Unfortunately, a successful project needs to achieve a feasible state in all of these.
Link business objectives to quantitative factors
At the project planning stage, seek out stakeholders and talk about the relevant area. This is a discovery phase, not a technical phase. Find out the consequences if the model works one way or another. What are the risks and costs?
For example, an F1 score or a precision metric doesn’t mean anything. But they can surely answer how much the company loses if a client is repeatedly exposed to Type 1 or Type 2 errors.
Is your company work in an area concerned with bias and privacy? Talk to the lawyers about how they greenlight other non-ML features. What QA tests do these features need to pass? Meet these with project metrics of your own.
Better project planning and execution
ML projects often need to change direction mid-course. A well-defined metrics framework allows you to reason about these changes and make informed decisions. It helps you communicate progress toward leadership who might not be familiar with statistical measures. During project execution, conversations about prioritisation will be data-driven instead of subjective feelings (and how loud someone is at staff meetings). But more on this tomorrow…