Risks in Machine Learning Projects and How to Avoid Them

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Risks in Machine Learning Projects and How to Avoid Them
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Table of Contents
  • What are the most common risks in machine learning projects?
    • Examples of ML project risks
  • How to reduce risk with ML projects
    • 1. Think about what you want
    • 2. Be realistic
    • 3. Remember that “data is king”
    • 4. Make sure your data is of high quality
    • 5. Hire experts
    • 6. Communicate with your team
  • Final thoughts on the risks in machine learning projects and avoiding them

Unlike typical IT projects, machine learning projects are highly innovative and cutting-edge, and as a result, much riskier. Here, being successful largely depends on whether you know what your ultimate goal is and consider your chances to achieve it.

Understanding the idea behind your ML project and the essential steps you need to take to make it work will help you avoid more than just disappointment. It will also help you save time and money you may waste if you don’t take some major risks into account.

Today we sat down with Krzystof Sopyła, Head of Machine Learning and Data Engineering at STX Next to answer questions about the main risks related to ML projects:

  • What are they?
  • How can we assess them?
  • Most importantly, how can we avoid them?

Read the article to learn the tips from our experienced ML manager that will help you identify potential shortcomings of your ML project and address them properly before you even start the project!

What are the most common risks in machine learning projects?

What consequences can you face if you don’t take ML project risks seriously? You work on something for a while, you think everything is fine—and then you receive user feedback that, in fact, something is wrong with the product. Nobody wants that to happen.

However, if you prepare the project well, the majority of issues that ML projects may create can be avoided. Getting a realistic view of the project and highlighting the significance of data quantity and quality will translate into designing a model that will be more technically and financially feasible.

Examples of ML project risks

Here’s a list of some of the most common risks in machine learning projects:

  • Lack of understanding of your business goals

This results in excessive work needed to deliver higher and higher metrics, which may not solve the real problem.

  • Lack of high-quality data

We tend to think we have the data we need to solve the problem; however, you often have to thoroughly investigate its quality and quantity beforehand.

  • Lack of cross-team communication

A lack of communication between data scientists and backend or frontend development teams results in poor model deployment architecture or bad design choices.

  • Lack of domain experts on the team

How to reduce risk with ML projects

ML projects are less predictable than other IT projects and come with a lot of plot twists. This means you need to react immediately to any issues along the way.

Analyzing challenges and communicating doubts or problems as well as acknowledging expert feedback will help you avoid unnecessary work, costs, and frustration. We hope Krzysztof’s tips below will help you do just that!

1. Think about what you want

What you need to do first to avoid problems at a later stage of work is to define the business goal of the project. You should consider what purpose your project is meant to serve and what results you expect.

Is your goal feasible? Should you use the technology you already have in your tech stack, but with new data? Should you integrate your model with the solution you already have? You should be aware of the implications that a given approach will have for further work.

It’s also crucial to specify the end result that you expect as well as the budget. You should stay realistic and be aware that a limited budget (which is usually the case) may not bring you the results you’re after.

2. Be realistic

Proper research before you start your project may also prevent you from doing unnecessary work. Sometimes it turns out that you don’t actually need ML for your project.

It’s also possible that some of your ideas may prove too time-consuming, too costly, or too difficult to implement. More often than not, what you really need is a simpler technology; the sooner you realize it, the more time and energy you will save.

Rushing to use ML in your project is just one mistake you can make. Sometimes your expectations regarding ML may be too high.

“Some people seem to think that machine learning is some kind of a magic wand and all you need to do is to wave it and you’ll get the results you want,” says Krzysztof Sopyła. “This isn’t the case. ML will bring you the results you expect only if you do all the necessary work early: specify the goal of the project and ensure the quality and amount of data you’re going to use.”

3. Remember that “data is king”

Data is indeed the key to a successful ML project. As they say, “Garbage in, garbage out”—good data makes a good project, which is why collecting and preparing data should be the foundation of any product.

“It is said that 80% of the work is about preparing and cleaning data, while 20% is about modeling and preparing the algorithm,” Krzysztof states.

You need to prepare enough high-quality data from a given domain. Even if some company has a good algorithm for specific data, you can’t just transplant it directly into an ML project at a different company operating in a different domain.

Collecting data isn’t always easy. What you need to do at the very beginning is to take a look at the sources of data you already have. Providing a data sample is one of the crucial things to do at this stage. This will show you if you’re well-prepared for the project you want to develop.

“I learned the following trick when discussing ML projects with my potential clients: I ask them to send me 100 data samples by the end of the week,” says Krzysztof. “If they can’t do it for some reason, or if they have organizational problems collecting the data, that means they aren’t ready to start the project and some data engineering work should be done.”

In that case, you need to take a step back and see what you can do to obtain the data. You may use a public repository, but remember that accessing some of them requires permission, and not all of them are available in every country.

It’s a whole process: searching, checking who worked on what, contacting authors, and asking them to make the data available. It’s essential to determine whether your project is feasible at all since it’s impossible to make it work without access to high-quality data.

4. Make sure your data is of high quality

Not having enough viable data to work on is what will eventually make you start reorganizing your plans. People in charge of ML projects are often surprised to hear so many questions about their data. “Clients usually want to talk about specific solutions we can implement, or about algorithms that they tend to overrate at the early stage of project work,” says Krzysztof Sopyła.

Having access to data is crucial, but the way in which you collect it is important, too; when doing it, you need to take a lot of factors into account. When collecting the data, you need to think of how it was gathered so that the data isn’t biased.

You also need to think about whether the data is inclusive and representative enough. Sometimes even details play a huge role here, which means that you should consider as many variables as you can.

5. Hire experts

Collecting high-quality and unbiased data is what makes you see the big picture from the very beginning. This, however, can’t be done without the help of experts in particular fields. Their insight helps pinpoint deficiencies or inaccuracies that the team sometimes fails to notice.

Any model you produce and train should be made available to experts. Depending on the project domain, these can be, for example, linguists, ecommerce managers, or doctors. Prepare a small demo and encourage them to try it out and give you their feedback.

Thanks to this, you’ll be able to quickly spot any biases and wrong predictions, and correct the model or training dataset accordingly. Professional insight is essential, as you’re only able to understand certain things thanks to their expert knowledge and intuition.

6. Communicate with your team

Communication is the foundation of a successful ML project. The team and the experts involved may experience communication difficulties at first, but over time they should learn how to give feedback to each other and cooperate better. Don’t hesitate to communicate your ideas and doubts to the Product Owner, too. Ask them about their thoughts on the data, the model, and the results.

Being disciplined when working on an ML project is no less important than it is in other IT projects. To implement a model, you need to coordinate the work of a lot of people, including backend developers, frontend developers, ML team members creating algorithms, and data engineers.

You also need to know how to provide data to particular teams. Making sure that they communicate effectively is extremely important; the team that implements the model should understand ML and know what to ask about when developing your product.

Final thoughts on the risks in machine learning projects and avoiding them

We hope that the tips offered by our expert in this article will help you deal with the challenges of machine learning projects. The key here is to be prepared in advance—thanks to the iterative approach, you’ll quickly identify problems with the execution and have more time to solve them.

Don’t be afraid to stop the project early when you can’t see any progress—that can save you a lot of time, money, and stress. ML projects, due to their innovative and cutting-edge nature, are much riskier and unpredictable, but at the same time, they can bring you even a 10x return on investment. So take your time to deal with these challenges, because it may be well worth it.

If you don’t feel confident enough to assess the risk of your project on your own, we can support you with our expertise in designing a product without compromising its security and efficiency. Check out our machine learning and data engineering services pages to learn how to unlock new possibilities, boost productivity, and automate your business processes.

We also recommend you read the following resources on our website—you may find them interesting:

Feel free to contact us to discuss any ML, AI, or DE needs you might have—we’ll be more than happy to help!

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