Tutorial | Machine learning basics#

Get started#

In this tutorial, we will create a machine learning model to predict whether or not a new customer will become a high-revenue customer. To do this, we’ll train a classification model using historical customer records and order logs from a fictional company, Haiku T-Shirts.


In this tutorial, you will:

  • Create a baseline classification model.

  • Browse the model report using charts of feature importance, confusion matrix, density, and ROC curve.

  • Iterate on the model design by configuring ml assertions, adjusting the feature handling, and generating new features.

  • Check the model for bias using native tests, such as partial dependence plots, subpopulation analysis, individual explanations, and interactive scoring or What if analysis.

Use case summary#

It costs more to add new customers than it does to keep existing customers. Therefore, the business wants to target high-revenue Haiku T-shirts customers for the next marketing campaign.

Since the business is focused on finding and labeling (predicting) high-revenue customers, we’ll want to maximize the number of correct predictions while also minimizing the number of times the model incorrectly predicts that a customer is not a high-revenue customer. To do this, we’ll pay close attention to the confusion matrix when evaluating model results.

The business also wants to be able to measure how well the model is aligning with business expectations for specific known cases.

To enable this measurement, we’ll take advantage of Dataiku’s built-in model diagnostics such as model assertions. Model assertions, or ML assertions, act as a “sanity check” to ensure predictions align with business expectations for specific known cases.

Our goals with the model will be to:

  • Build a high-performing model to predict high-revenue customers.

  • Minimize false negatives — that is, minimize the number of times the model incorrectly predicts that a customer is not a high revenue customer.

  • Configure ML assertions.


  • Access to an instance of Dataiku 12+.

  • Basic knowledge of Dataiku (Core Designer level or equivalent).

Create your project#

Let’s get started!

  1. From the Dataiku homepage, click +New Project > DSS tutorials > ML Practitioner > Machine Learning Basics.

  2. Select Go to Flow.


You can also download the starter project from this website and import it as a zip file.

Create the model#

In the Machine Learning Basics tutorial starter project, you’ll see an initial Flow that imports, prepares, and joins the customers and orders datasets.

Machine learning tutorial data pipeline in Dataiku.

The preparation results in two datasets: customers_labeled, which we will use as a training dataset for our predictive models, and customers_unlabeled_prepared, which represents the new customers we want to predict.

Train a baseline model#

Our goal is to predict (i.e., perform a calculated guess) whether the customer will become a “high revenue” customer. If we can predict this correctly, we would be able to assess the quality of the cohorts of new customers, and help the business more effectively drive acquisition campaigns and channels.

  1. In the Flow, select the customers_labeled dataset.

  2. Click on the Lab button in the right panel.

  3. Select AutoML Prediction.

  4. In the info window, after Create prediction model on select high_revenue from the dropdown menu of features.

  5. At the bottom of the window, give the analysis the more descriptive name High revenue analysis.

  6. Click Create.

Creating a new AutoML prediction from a training dataset.

Our labeled dataset contains information about the customer including the age of their first order, the number of pages visited on average, and whether or not the customer responded to a campaign. The last column high_revenue is a flag for customers generating a lot of revenue based on their purchase history. It will be used as the target variable of our modeling task.

The target variable of the prediction task is the high revenue column.

Now let’s build our baseline models! Dataiku guesses the best preprocessing to apply to the features of your dataset before applying the machine learning algorithms.

  1. Click Train.

A few seconds later, Dataiku presents a summary of the results. In this case, two classes of algorithms are used on the data:

  • A simple generalized linear model (logistic regression).

  • A more complex ensemble model (random forest).

Baseline machine learning model results.


While training the models, Dataiku runs visual ML diagnostics and displays the results in real time. You can hover over the visual ML diagnostics as the models are trained to view any warnings.

Examine baseline results#

We can use the results from our baseline model training session as a comparison as we iterate on our model and try to improve its performance.

Later tutorials will take a closer look at the model results, but we can take a brief tour.

The model summary includes the following information:

  • The type of model.

  • A performance measure; here the Area Under the ROC Curve or AUC is displayed.

  • A summary of the most important variables in predicting your target.

The AUC measure is handy: the closer to 1, the better the model. Here the Random forest model seems to be the most accurate.

  1. On the left, select the Random forest model to view its model report.

The Summary panel shows an ROC AUC value of approximately 0.791. Whether this is satisfactory depends heavily on your use case and objectives.

Machine learning model summary.


You might find that your actual results are different from those shown. This is due to differences in how rows are randomly assigned to training and testing samples.

Evaluate the model#

Now that you’ve built your first model, let’s look at ways to interpret it, and understand its prediction quality and model results.

Model explainability#

From the Summary, going down the list in the left panel, you will find the Explainability section. This section provides information for assessing the behavior of the model and the contribution of features to the model outcome.

Some of the panels in this section are algorithm-dependent; for example, a linear model will display information about the model’s coefficients, while a tree-based model will display information about decision trees.

In the Explainability section, the Feature importance tab displays three charts, with each giving more details about the model behavior and the relationship between input data and output predictions.

  1. Select the Feature importance panel on the left.

The first chart, the Absolute feature importance plot, reveals the impact of the variables used to train the model on the target, high_revenue. Notice that some variables seem to have a stronger impact than others. Notably, the age at the time of first purchase, age_first_order, seems to be a good indicator along with the campaign and pages_visited_avg.

Feature importance chart of a model.

Scrolling down, the Feature effects plot shows variables again ordered according to their importance. Each point represents one row from the dataset. The point’s position on the x-axis shows how strongly that feature value impacted the prediction, positively or negatively. The point’s color shows whether the feature value was relatively low (blue) or high (red). Categorical features are shown in grey. You can hover over any point to get additional details.

Feature effects plot of a model.

The third chart, the Feature dependence plot, displays the distribution of Shapley values, along the y-axis, across a feature’s values on the x-axis. Shapley values are a measure of each feature value’s relative importance to the model.

In the chart for our model, we can see that the age_first_order values that had the most effect on the revenue are around 20 (negatively affecting the revenue) and around 60 to 70 (positively affecting the revenue). In other words, older customers are more likely to bring in high revenue.

You can plot different features to visualize the impact their values have on the target using the Select feature to plot dropdown menu.

Feature dependence plot of a model.

We can use this information to both evaluate the model’s performance and help meet business objectives. You can export the data from the tab by clicking Export in the top right. You can also share the charts to dashboards (after a model has been deployed to the Flow), and the feature importance plot is included in the model documentation.


The Interpretation section also contains a panel for creating partial dependence plots, performing subpopulation analysis, and providing individual explanations at a row-level.

We’ll cover these in detail in the Explainable AI section.

Interpret model performance#

The Performance section provides information for assessing the performance of the model.

Note that some sections are algorithm-dependent. Here we discuss options for our classification task, but a regression task would include a scatter plot and error distribution. A clustering task would have a heatmap and cluster profiles.

Confusion matrix#

A classification machine learning model usually outputs a probability of belonging to one of the two groups. The actual predicted value depends on which cut-off threshold we decide to use on this probability; i.e., at which probability do we decide to classify our customer as a high revenue one? The confusion matrix is dependent on the given cut-off threshold.

  1. Select Confusion matrix.

The Confusion matrix compares the actual values of the target variable with predicted values (hence values such as false positives, false negatives…) and some associated metrics: precision, recall, f1-score.

Confusion matrix of a model.

Cost matrix#

  1. In the Confusion matrix panel, scroll down or zoom out to see the Cost matrix section.

Recall from the business objectives that one of our goals is to detect the high revenue customers as best as possible, therefore minimize the error where we mis-classify high revenue customers as non-high-revenue customers. In other words, we want to minimize the false negatives.

Using the Cost matrix, we can allocate a cost for every incorrect prediction, thereby giving more weight to when the model incorrectly predicts that a high-revenue customer is not high revenue.

To evaluate the average gain (or loss) per record that our model would yield, we simply specify a gain for each of the four scenarios.

  1. Configure the Cost matrix weights as follows:

    • If the model predicts True and the value is True, the gain is 5.

    • If the model predicts True but the value is False, the gain is -1.

    • If the model predicts False and the value is False, the gain is 0.5.

    • If the model predicts False, but the value is True, the gain is -10.

The cost matrix with new settings.

With this configuration, we win $5 for each correct prediction of True, but we lose $10 for each incorrect prediction of False.

Our cut-off threshold is set to optimal which corresponds with an Average gain per record of “-0.5”. For each correct prediction of True we are losing an average of $0.5.

With our Cost matrix weights in place, we could adjust the cut-off threshold using the slider at the top of the Confusion matrix until the Cost matrix reaches an Average gain per record that satisfies our business use case.

Decision chart#

The Decision Chart represents precision, recall, and F1 score for all possible cut-offs.

  1. Click Decision chart then hover over different cut-off thresholds along the graph to view the resulting metrics.

Decision chart of a model.

Lift charts and ROC curve#

The Lift charts and ROC curve are visual aids, perhaps the most useful, to assess the performance of your model. In both cases, the steeper the curves are at the beginning of the graphs, the better the model.


You can visit the model evaluation concept to learn more about these and other model evaluation tools.

Density chart#

The Density chart shows the distribution of the probability to be high-value customer, compared across the two actual groups.

A good model will be able to separate the two curves as much as possible.

Metrics and assertions#

Recall from our business objectives that the business analyst wants to define built-in checks for ML assertions. In Metrics and assertions we can find out detailed performance metrics, dependent and independent of a cut-off threshold, and the results of ML assertion checks.

  1. Click Metrics and assertions.

ML assertions are sanity checks, performed to ensure predictions align with expectations, for certain known cases. Assertions can save time in the development phase of our model, speed up model evaluation, and help us improve the model when needed.

We don’t have any assertions defined yet. We’ll do that in the section on tuning the model.

Model information section#

Model Information is a recap about how the model has been built and includes ML diagnostics.


  1. Click Features.

In the Features tab, you will notice some interesting things.

By default, all the variables available except customerID have been used to predict our target. Dataiku has rejected customerID because this feature was detected as an unique identifier and was not helpful to predict high-value customers.

Furthermore, criteria like the geopoint is probably not really interesting in a predictive model, because it will not generalize well on new records.


To work with geospatial information, you could always use the Prepare recipe to extract information such as country, region, and city from the geopoint values. To find out more about working with geospatial data in Dataiku, visit the geospatial analytics section of the Knowledge Base, or Geographic Processing in the reference documentation.

We’ll modify feature handling when we tune the model.

Training information#

In the Training information panel, Dataiku displays the results of ML diagnostics including dataset sanity checks. It looks like, in our case, the train and test datasets are imbalanced. This is common in machine learning.

The train and test datasets are rarely completely balanced in machine learning, yet, Dataiku still alerts us about the level of imbalance. If the level of imbalance becomes too large, the model’s performance could be impacted.


The Training information panel provides a way for us to export the train and test sets to the Flow so that we know which rows the model used for training and testing. We could then export this dataset for conducting our own model evaluation or even for meeting regulatory compliance needs.

Training information panel of a model.

Tune the model#

You have built a basic model to classify high revenue customers and looked at a few ways to evaluate its performance. Because modeling is an iterative process, let’s now turn our attention to improving the model’s results and speeding up the evaluation process.

Return to the model design#

We first need to return to the design of the modeling task.

  1. Navigate to the High revenue analysis attached to the customers_labeled dataset by clicking on Models within the High revenue analysis/Models/Random forest title at the top of the page.

  2. Click on the Design tab near the top center of the page.

Configure the train / test split#

One setting we may wish to tune is the split between training and testing sets.

  1. Click on the Train / Test Set panel of the model’s design.

By default, Dataiku randomly splits the first N rows of the input dataset into a training set and a test set. The default ratio is:

  • 80% for training.

  • 20% for testing.

This means Dataiku will take the first N rows of the dataset and randomly take 80% of those rows to train the model. This could result in a very biased view of the dataset.

If we return to the customers_labeled dataset in the Flow, and analyze the high_revenue column, our target column, we can see that there is a class imbalance.

A dataset with a class imbalance problem.

This could be problematic when taking only the first N rows of the dataset and randomly splitting it into train and test sets. However, since our dataset is small, we’ll keep the default sampling & splitting strategy.


One way to try to improve a class imbalance is to apply a class rebalance sampling method. Visit the reference documentation to discover how Dataiku allows you to configure sampling and splitting.

Adjust feature handling settings#

To address the issue about pre-processing of variables before training the model, we’ll use the Features handling panel. Here, Dataiku will let you tune different settings.

  1. Select Features handling in the Features section.

Reject geopoint feature#

The Role of the variable (or feature) is the fact that a variable can be either used (Input) or not used (Reject) in the model.

Let’s remove ip_address_geopoint from the model.

  1. Turn off ip_address_geopoint to exclude the feature from the model.

Handling a geopoint feature in the Design tab of a visual analysis.

Disable rescaling behavior#

The Type of the variable is very important to define how it should be preprocessed before it is fed to the machine learning algorithm:

  • Numerical variables are real-valued ones. They can be integer or numerical with decimals.

  • Categorical variables store nominal values: red/blue/green, a zip code, a gender, etc. Also, there will often be times when a variable that looks like numerical should actually be categorical instead. For example, this will be the case when an “id” is used in lieu of the actual value.

  • Text is meant for raw blocks of textual data, such as a social media post or customer review. Dataiku is able to handle raw text features with specific preprocessing.

The numerical variables age_first_order and pages_visited_avg have been automatically normalized using a standard rescaling (this means that the values are normalized to have a mean of 0 and a variance of 1).

Let’s disable this behavior, and use No rescaling instead.

  1. Select the checkboxes for the variables age_first_order and pages_visited_avg.

  2. In the menu for handling the two selected features, under Rescaling, select No Rescaling.

Handling numeric features in the Design tab of a visual analysis.

Generate new features#

Generating new features can reveal unexpected relationships between the inputs (variables/features) and the target.

We can automatically generate new numeric features using Pairwise linear combinations and Polynomial combinations of existing numeric features.

  1. In the Features section, select the Feature generation panel.

  2. Select Pairwise linear combinations.

  3. Set Enable to Yes.

  4. Select Pairwise polynomial combinations.

  5. Set Enable to Yes.

Feature generation in the Design tab of a visual analysis.

Train new models#

After altering the Design settings, you can build some new models.

  1. Select Save, and then click Train.

  2. Select Train again to start the second training session.

Once the session has completed, you can see that the performance of the random forest model has now slightly increased.

Evaluate the new models#

In our case, session 2 resulted in a Random Forest model with an AUC value that is slightly higher than the first model.


When training is complete, we can go directly to ML diagnostics.

  1. Select Diagnostics in the Result tab of the random forest model to view the results of the ML diagnostics checks.

ML diagnostics in the result tab of a visual analysis.

Dataiku displays Model Information > Training information. Here, we can view warnings and get advice to avoid common pitfalls, including if a feature has a suspiciously high importance — which could be due to a data leak or overfitting.

This is like having a second set of eyes that provide warning and advice, so that you can identify and correct these issues when developing the model.

Feature importance#

Finally, let’s look at the Feature importance charts for the latest model.

  1. Select Feature importance in the Explainability section.

  2. At the top of the page, change the Feature importance method to Gini to view the Variable importance chart.

We can see that the importance is spread across the campaign variable along with the features automatically generated from age_first_order and pages_visited_avg. The generated features may have uncovered some previously hidden relationships.

The Feature importance chart for the model.

You can also switch the Feature importance method back to Shapley to view more feature importance charts such as Feature effects and Feature dependence plots.

Table view#

Now that you have trained several models, all the results may not fit your screen. To see all your models at a glance:

  1. Go back to the Result tab. You can do this by clicking on Models in the High revenue analysis/Models/Randomforest (s2) title.

  2. Switch to the Table view.

You can sort the Table view on any column, such as ROC AUC. To do so, just click on the column title.

Table view in the results of a visual analysis.

Explain the model#

You’ve modified various settings that improved the model’s performance. Before putting this model into production, we want to make sure we understand its predictions. It is advisable to investigate whether its predictions are biased, in this case for example, by age groups or gender.

Return to the model results#

For these explainability tests, we’ll need to return to the results of the modeling task.

  1. Navigate to the High revenue analysis attached to the customers_labeled dataset.

  2. Click on the Result tab near the top center of the page.

  3. Open the model report for the best performing Random forest model by clicking on its name.

Compute a partial dependence plot#

We can compute partial dependence plots on both numeric and categorical features.

On numeric features#

First, let’s use a partial dependence plot to understand the effect of a numeric feature (age_first_order) on the target (high_revenue).

  1. Click Partial dependence in the left panel.

  2. Specify age_first_order as the variable.

  3. Click Compute.

The partial dependence plot for the age variable for the random forest model.

The partial dependence plot shows the dependence of high_revenue on the age_first_order feature, computed on the test set (2177 rows).

  • A negative partial dependence value represents a negative dependence of the predicted response on the feature value.

  • A positive partial dependence value represents a positive dependence of the predicted response on the feature value.

For example, the partial dependence plot shows that high_revenue being True has a negative relationship with age_first_order for ages below 39 years. The relationship reaches a plateau between ages 50 and 70, but then drops off until age 78.

Underneath the trend line, the plot also displays the distribution of the age_first_order feature. From the distribution, you can see that there is sufficient data to interpret the relationship between the feature and the target.

On categorical features#

Let’s see what the partial dependence plot looks like for a categorical feature gender.

  1. Select gender as the variable.

  2. Click Compute.

The partial dependence plot for gender in the random forest model.

The partial dependence plot shows that high_revenue being True has a negative relationship with gender being F. In the cases where gender is M or has no value, then the relationship is positive. The gender distribution (on the right) is roughly equal between males and females, and it accounts for about 90% of the data.

Use subpopulation analysis#

Another useful tool to better understand the model is subpopulation analysis. Using this tool, we can assess if the model behaves identically across subgroups or if the model shows biases for certain groups.

Let’s use a subpopulation analysis to understand how our model behaves across different gender groups.

  1. Click Subpopulation analysis in the left panel.

  2. Specify gender as the variable.

  3. Click Compute.

The subpopulation analysis for gender for the random forest model.

The table shows a subpopulation analysis for gender, computed on the test set. The overall model predicted that high_revenue was true approximately 19% of the time when it was actually true only 8% of the time.

  • The model predicted True 20% of the time for the M subgroup, when the actual number was 9%.

  • For the F subgroup, the model predicted that high_revenue was true 19% of the time when the actual number was 8%.

The predicted probabilities for male and female are close, but not identical. We can investigate whether this difference is significant enough by displaying more metrics in the table and more detailed statistics related to the subpopulations represented by the F and M rows.

  1. Click the Displayed Metrics dropdown at the top right of the table.

  2. Select F1 Score. Note that this metric considers both the precision and recall values. The best possible value is one, and the worst is zero.

  3. Click anywhere on the F and M rows to expand them.

The subpopulation analysis including the F1 score.

In this analysis, the male subgroup has the highest F1 score of all the groups, even though the score is quite low. Also, the confusion matrices (when displaying % of actual classes) for both the male and female groups show that the female subgroup does better (58%) at correctly predicting high_revenue to be true than the male subgroup (56%).

Explore individual explanations#

Apart from exploring the effects of features on the model, it can also be useful to understand how certain features impact the prediction of specific rows in the dataset. The individual prediction explanations feature allows you to do just this!

Note that this feature can be computed in two ways:

  • From the Individual explanations panel in the model results page.

  • Within a Scoring recipe (after deploying a model to the Flow), by checking the option Output explanations. See the Scoring Basics <https://academy.dataiku.com/path/ml-practitioner/scoring-basics>`_ course for an example.

Let’s use the Individual explanations panel in the model results page to visualize the five most influential features that impact the prediction for specific samples in the dataset.

  1. Click Individual explanations in the left panel.

  2. Compute explanations for the 5 most influential features.

  3. Click the gear icon in the top right corner to see more settings, such as the sampling details. Keep the Sample size as 1000.

  4. Move the left slider close to 0.10 (corresponding to “~112 rows”)

  5. Move the right slider close to 0.70 (corresponding to “~97 rows”) to specify the number of rows at the low and high ends of the predicted. probabilities.

  6. Click Compute.

The individual explanations for the random forest model.


  • This sample is drawn from the test set because the model implemented a simple train/test split. If the model implemented K-Fold validation, then the sample would be drawn from the entire dataset.

  • The probability density function in the background is an approximation based on the test set. The boxes to enable low and high probabilities are checked by default, so that you can move the sliders.

In our example, Dataiku returned about 140 rows for which the output probabilities are less than 0.10, and about 140 rows for which the output probabilities are greater than 0.70. Each row explanation is represented in a card below the probability density plot. Notice that Dataiku has selected customerID as the identifier, but you can change this selection.

On the left side of the page, the cards have low probabilities of high_revenue being False and are sorted in order of increasing probabilities. In contrast, the cards on the right side of the page have high probabilities of high_revenue being True and are sorted in order of decreasing probabilities. For each card, the predicted probability is in the top right, and the customerID (card identifier) is in the top left.

For cards on the left side of the page, observe that all of the bars are red and oriented to the left. This reflects that the predicted probability is below average and the features negatively impact the prediction. In some cases, some of the bars may have counter effects (green and oriented to the right), even so, the net effect of the features will still be negative for cards on the left side of the page.

The opposite observation can be made for the cards on the right side of the page, where the bars are mostly – if not always – green and oriented to the right to reflect the positive impact of the features on the outcome.

You can click Features in a card to display the full list of all its features and their values.

The full list of features for an individual customer.

Try a What if analysis#


Refer to the concept article on What if analysis for more information.

What if analyses can be a useful exercise to help both data scientists and business analysts get a sense for what a model will predict given different input values. Let’s try out a What if simulation and see the resulting predictions.

  1. Select the What if? panel to display the simulator.

  2. Set the pages_visited_avg to 10.

  3. Set age_first_order to 40.

  4. Set campaign to True.

  5. Set all other features to ignore by clicking the Ignore icon.

A what if analysis for a hypothetical customer record.

Given this analysis, the model would predict a high-revenue customer with a cut-off threshold of approximately 67%. This information could be useful for making assertions.

What’s next?#

Congratulations! In an effort to seek out unintended biases, you have performed several different kinds of analyses that can help you interpret your model.

Once you have settled on a model, the next step is to use it to generate predictions on unseen data.

In order to do that, see the next tutorial on deploying models from the Lab to the Flow!


You can find more about each of these explainability tests in the reference documentation: