The enemy of my enemy is my friend

19 07 2011

Strange what a few years means to the technology sector.  Google, once champion of the little guy, the individual, the anti-Mircosoft, now becomes the problem.  The Michigan – Ohio State rivalry of the tech industry was supposed to be Apple and Microsoft.  They have spanned great battles over the years – and better commercials…

Yet, all of a sudden Google is the evil invader in the space.  What else could make Apple and Microsoft consortium partners?

WHAT!!  Wait a second…

Nortel Networks, one of the great patent holders, is watching its power, influence, and ultimately its profits dwindle away.  Up for auction were a sizable number of its patents.  While Google was the early favorite, Apple and Microsoft teamed up with Ericsson, EMC, RIM, and Sony teamed up with each other to outspend Google.

While we get to wait and see what this means for Google, we can wonder what our competition might be willing to do to us given the opportunity?

  • How do external opportunities trigger discussions within the organization?
  • Who monitors the external market for us?
  • How do we leverage information to make timely decisions?
  • How well do we gamemanship our competition?  Are they better at it than us?

 





Simon Sinek & the Golden Circle

11 07 2011

The RIM letter to BGR referenced a video from Simon Sinek on TED.  While I think he makes an incredibly difficult task seem a little too easy, I think he certainly raises some interesting questions.  He talks about the Gold Circle, how we market the what instead of the why.

Execution is far more difficult than transforming the marketing message from the “What we do” to the “why we do it”, it is more about leadership and a unique focus on the customer that is not easily replicated.

Anyway, here is the video….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4&feature=youtu.be





Research in Motion’s public battle

5 07 2011

When executives feel they have to go outside of a chain of command in order to voice concerns, we see perfect examples of the need for Operational Performance Management (OPM).  The current Research in Motion public battle is a great place to start.  An anonymous executive sent an open letter to Jonathan Geller, of The Boy Genius (BGR.com), to call out the current RIM culture.  What is more entertaining about this is the fact that RIM responds publicly, which only makes this sound like a bigger problem.

Highlights of the RIM letter:

  • You have many smart employees, many that have great ideas for the future, but unfortunately the culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.
  • We often make product decisions based on strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice — the end user doesn’t care. We simply have to admit that Apple is nailing this and it is one of the reasons they have people lining up overnight at stores around the world, and products sold out for months. These people aren’t hypnotized zombies, they simply love beautifully designed products that are user centric and work how they are supposed to work.
  • Teams still aren’t talking together properly, no one is making or can make critical decisions, all the while everyone is working crazy hours and still far behind. We are demotivated.
  • Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.
  • We simply must stop shipping incomplete products that aren’t ready for the end user. It is hurting our brand tremendously. It takes guts to not allow a product to launch that may be 90% ready with a quarter end in sight, but it will pay off in the long term.
  • The truth is, no one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are. Even our closest dev partners do their best to say it politely, but they will never bite the hand that feeds them.
  • 25 million iPad users don’t care that it doesn’t have Flash or true multitasking, so why make that a focus in our campaigns? I’ll answer that for you: it’s because that’s all that differentiates our products and its lazy marketing. I’ve never seen someone buy product B because it has something product A doesn’t have. People buy product B because they want and lust after product B.
  • RIM has a lot of people who underperform but still stay in their roles. No one is accountable. Where is the guy responsible for the 9530 software? Still with us, still running some important software initiative. We will never achieve excellence with this culture. Just because someone may have been a loyal RIM employee for 7 years, it doesn’t mean they are the best Manager / Director / VP for that role.
  • However, overconfidence clouds good decision-making. We missed not boldly reacting to the threat of iPhone when we saw it in January over four years ago. We laughed and said they are trying to put a computer on a phone, that it won’t work.
  • Reach out to all employees asking them on how we can make RIM better. Encourage input from ground-level teams—without repercussions—to seek out honest feedback and really absorb it.

All of these are examples of what happens in almost every business culture I have witnessed.  It is certainly not unique to RIM. If you think this is not happening within your business you are sorely mistaken.

What can you do….

  • Foster honest discussions.  Stop punishing those who do not follow the company line. Reward critical thought.  Ask people to do their homework prior to the meetings.
  • Listen.  Tap into the collective intelligence of the organization.  1,000 eyes see a lot.
  • Act out.  Stress your opinion if you have a dissenting idea.If you love your company and passionate about what you do, chances are your opinions probably do matter.




Obesity in the US

29 04 2011

This is again perhaps a little off topic for me, but it does pose some really interesting strategic points for consideration…

The cigarette of today’s generation is fast food, sodas, and poor eating habits in general.  Obesity in the US is projected to be about 20% of our annual health spending – or roughly $350 billion (USA Today) by 2018.  This means the number will double from 10% of the spending to 20% by 2018.  Food related deaths account for more than half of our causes of death (CDC) and we focus very little attention to it.  And for the first time in decades the US life expectancy is projected to decline by 5 years (National Institute of Health) with this generation.

So from the viewpoint of Strategy, this poses a wild number of potentials.  Depending upon your industry this either opens you to a tremendous opportunity, or a concerning level of risk.

Opportunities:

  • Food industry – being an early mover to healthier versions of your food may attract more customers
  • Education – providing content for school, churches, communities, etc may open more doors for you
  • Healthcare – with increasing costs, providers that can target care to show health gains with children, or keep their clients healthier may see improved demand for their products while at the same time controller their costs.
  • Marketing – Branding your self as a healthy alternative
  • HR – being seen as a healthier employer may improve your retainment and attraction to new employees.  You may also see a reduction in your health care costs over time.

Risks:

  • Fast food – This entire industry may be about to come under ever increasing levels of attack.  The attacks will likely be on menu, ingredients, nutritional labeling, and potentially lawsuits.
  • Sports drinks – As parents become more aware of the level of sugar in these drinks, demand is certainly at risk.  As one of their core segments is children, it is also possible that even the marketing placement will be called into question.
  • Education – As Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution has clearly pointed out, he is certainly targeting the school system menu.  Once the parents get involved school district lunch menus will likely need to change dramatically.
  • Healthcare – spiraling costs will force most healthcare companies to make very difficult decisions to remain profitable.

Here is Jamie Oliver’s presentation on TED.

Here you can see the growing obesity problem in the us (CDC).





Changing Market Place

7 04 2011

Yesterday in the NYTimes was a story about the speed of the changing U.S. race demographic.  As our demographic changes, so will tastes and demand.  Many companies have sat atop their markets feeling they are invincible, yet with these changes many of the companies will find out much too late that they were not as solid as they once felt.

Have you asked yourself any of the following:

  • What percent of our clients come from the majority?
  • Do we have products that meet demands from all sectors?
  • Are we at risk if the legislature, or governing boards, can their ethnicity over time?
  • Where are our biggest threats in this new market?
  • Where are our greatest advantages?
  • What else can we do to capture more in this changing market?
  • Where might new competitors come after our market?

If you are not strategically discussing questions like these, then you elevate your risk of something happening to undermine your position within your market.

 





Pink Bat

9 03 2011

I know I have not published much here lately, but I have been writing a fair bit.  Some of these I have just been a little timid about sharing as they are a little inconsistent with the goal of this blog.

Anyway, while I was doing a little research about my current project I stumbled across this and thought the video was well worth sharing. In a nutshell, train yourself to see solutions to problems.  Train your business to be more aware, to take risks, but more importantly to always be thinking about solutions.

The following video is from Michael McMillian and while the book does not get the wildest of reviews, the concept is and short video is worthwhile.

 

pinkbatmovie.com





Zombie Initiatives and Tasks

5 01 2011

Over the holidays I heard a story on Zombie Processes.  It reminded me of the number of these I have come across in business.  One of the luxuries of being a consultant is you get to ask “why do you do that” or better yet “what would happen if you didn’t do that anymore”.  As businesses grow and scale we often pick up a number of new initiatives, or increase the subtasks, and never kill off old ones.  We also inherit more and more “stuff” that people do that does not necessarily add value.

Zombies: A Zombie initiative/task is something that continues on because no one has done the favor of saying it is either over or complete.  It can also be a task that exists that no longer needs to exist.   Basically it is inefficient effort and time.

Do these exist in your organization? Absolutely and everywhere.  The key is not trying to fix them all at once – this will get you nowhere.  What makes the most sense is to identify your strategic goals and initiatives and start with the processes that support those goals.

Where do you start? Take a look at your critical initiatives across the organization.  Ask yourself which ones are going to provide the most strategic value over the next 12 months.  Pick 3 and define the value of those initiatives.  Are they about increasing/decreasing time, revenue growth, cost cutting, elevating customer value?  Figure out how improvements should be measured.  Set up serious targets and a process to manage improvements.  Roll up your sleeves and get rid of the Zombies.  And while again this is self serving, it does not make it less true – hire a consultant.  Have someone independent to the organization ask the questions.  Especially if this is a new concept inside the organization.  People don’t like change, they fear it will expose them or put them at risk.  This can lead to the wrong motivation for process improvement.

 

Stuff:  This can be projects, tasks, subtasks, processes, or simply job justification work.





Grab your Popcorn…Things are about to get really weird

9 12 2010

There are things you hope never happen to your business, some you even discuss and prepare against. And then it happens just like you planned: a rogue employee for the US government slips a little known website confidential material and suddenly, all heck breaks loose.

This example seems like a Hollywood sci-fi show, yet the effects and impact are played out in reality and cost innocent bystanders money.  What started with Julian Assange posting a few things have spiraled towards a digital Armageddon.  First was a smear campaign against Assange; true or not, things were leaked to damage his reputation. Then, those hosting WikiLeaks were pressured. It worked, and like a good fighter, he took the punch, regrouped, and counter-punched.  We know the story, it has been the same through time. All of a sudden he is seen as an underdog, and the following starts. He becomes the flag-bearer for those oppressed and in the shadows, who then rise up to support their black knight. And all of a sudden, businesses involved in some way are attacked.

So buy your “Go WikiLeaks Go!” tshirt (you knew someone had to make a t-shirt), grab your popcorn, and get ready for the show – this one is just starting up.  And I have a strange feeling Assange might be saving his best for last.

For those of you playing the home version…click here for a link to the Google news thread on WikiLeaks.

While you are at it, you might have a discussion about what would happen if your website is attacked.





Wallet Alignment…Life’s Perspective

6 12 2010

We hear and often bemoan comments in many professions, as the judgements often seem settled from the outset. For example, while reviewing an x-ray he took on my first appointment, my chiropractor remarked succinctly, “You are an ideal candidate for chiropractic therapy.”

Surgeons see operations, lawyers see risks, dentists see cavities, policemen see crimes, and consultants see problems.  When you are a hammer, life looks like nails.

One of the core reasons strategy management consulting works well is it trains companies to let strategies align wallets.  All too often we take the advice of the squeaky wheel, or allow personal politics to drive decision making.  Strategy management is about a consistent process geared to drive decisions, fund initiatives, and find those that no longer serve their purpose.

    • How often do you hear employees complain about certain initiatives?
    • How often do feel your organizations fund pet projects?
    • How consistently are decisions based upon closing strategic gaps?
    • What is the process of funding new initiatives?
    • Could you improve on any of these?




      Analytics: Frequency Distribution & Bell Curves

      8 11 2010

      A statistical method we often overlook is the distribution curve.  I think most of the time it is dismissed because people get nervous about using statistics if they are uncomfortable with math.  While there are some advanced concepts around using a frequency curve, it can also be used visually as a simple tool to explain results.

      A simple stats lesson….

      Normal Bell Curve – roughly 68% of the population is within 1 standard deviation (measure of variation) of the average and 95% is within two standard deviations. Below is an example of IQ scores.  The average score is 100 and 68% of the data is between 85 & 115.

      While this visualization doesn’t do a tremendous amount for us, this is what we assume when we think of populations, like customers and employees.  And because of our limited statistical training we make a large number of assumptions based on averages.  We love to look at average revenue: average revenue per employee, average revenue per customer, etc.  This thinking also gets us looking into the outliers (that <5% that sits way out to the left or right of the chart).  How much time do you spend on less than 5% of the business?

      OK, so back to thinking of this in terms of running a business….

      Let’s map out our revenue per customer.  I would be willing to bet it looks something like the following:

      If this is the customer revenue distribution, if we use the average number in our analyzes we can quickly generate a number of wrong assumptions.  First and foremost, our typical customer is larger than reality.  It might lead us to think we are serving mid-sized businesses than more likely smaller market customers.  I am also willing to bet our profitability per customer has a similar curve to it.  In this case we are likely spending money on the wrong customers and aligning our better services to a lower profit generating customer (or more likely a profit destroying customer).

      Do we need to use it in everything? Of course not, but it might help everyone once in a while to challenge our overuse of the mathematical average to reassess perspectives of our business.  A great place to start is map out the customer base in terms of revenue (profitability is better, but takes a lot longer to do).  It might just lead you to understand your customer (think customer segmentation) better.

      Real life example…I was once part of a research project to understand discounting to one side of the outliers (<1% of the business).  The outcome was to focus on reducing discounting to that <1% of the business.  What I argued was to focus on the larger part of the business, where the same efforts would have resulted in millions more in terms of profits.  It was a clear lesson is where to apply process improvement.





      Visualization Methods

      14 10 2010

      I thought this was worth sharing….Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.  This is a nice visualization of the different types of visualization.  It shows some good examples, and some not so good examples of visualization. Make sure you mouse over the different elements.

      Rules of visualization designed to create action:

      1. Keep it simple, clear, and concise – with the emphasis on simple.  Don’t use complex charts to explain simple ideas.
      2. Know your audience.  Don’t present glorious details of each step in the analytical process to executives – trust me, they don’t care.
      3. Find a chart style that works well with the data.  Line charts show historical trending, bars charts do a better job of showing relativity.
      4. Don’t use 10 charts when 1 could suffice.
      5. Label well.  Take the time to make sure all of the information is explained.  The last thing you want to happen is for someone to look at it and say “what does it mean?”
      6. Understand there is a difference in analysis and presentation.  If you are trying to convince someone to act, then make sure the data (and you) tell the story.
      7. Start with the big picture, then explain (if necessary) how you got there.  People learn by seeing the picture first, then seeing how the parts go together.
      8. Document your assumptions.
      9. Explain your conclusions, don’t expect your audience to jump to the same answer.
      10. Highlight the relevant points within the data that augment your argument – use a color scheme that calls out the item if you can (red bars vs gray).  Do not be afraid to use the power of a printed report and some hand written notes with arrows to the corresponding areas.
      11. Understand where and why the data does not support your conclusions.  Be prepared to defend against those points, because your audience will likely be looking for ways to contest your conclusions.
      12. Practice what you want to say.  The more proficient you sound the more convincing you will be.




      Breaking down Profitability

      12 10 2010

      One of my favorite bloggers / writers, Seth Godin, writes about “When the long tail is underwater” on his Oct 10th blog.  He actually touches on a couple of interesting points, how much time and energy is created that generates no value, and how do we filter out all of this information to understand what is relevant.

      Take for example the Droid/iPhone app market…Apps are everywhere, and try to do everything.  Apple and Droid both claim wildly unusable numbers of apps.  With all of these potential apps, ask your friends what Apps that they can’t live without and people get strangely quiet.  I had a few people respond Urban Spoon and one guy mentioned Wolfram Alpha.

      Seriously, hundreds of thousands of apps out there and we can’t create a list of “gotta have” apps? Yes, I know there are hundreds of those lists.  Read one of those lists and ask yourself which one will you be using a month from now.

      Sorry back to the point…Compare this to your company’s information:

      • How much data do you have?
      • How many reports do you have?
      • How much of it is relevant?
      • How much old stuff is out there that no one has any idea of its worth?
      • How often do you clean up the environment?
      • How quick do people respond?

      AND how often do you hear people say… I don’t have the data?  OR I am not sure where I can find the information I need?

       

       





      Flakes…not just for breakfast anymore

      5 10 2010

      Carbon Flakes (aka graphene) just earned a pair of University of Manchester students $1.4 million, oh and the Nobel prize.  Think nanometer material that is unbelievably strong (Wikipedia).

      While we might be a few years off, there is certainly some potential to see new paradigm shifts in certain markets:

      • What could a light weight, strong coating do to the car market where weight and MPG are inversely related?
      • What could it mean to the military in terms of personnel and vehicle armor?
      • What could it do to clothing?
      • How about kitchen materials?
      • How about computer components?
      • Plastics?

      If you believe this could impact your products, your market, what would you do?  When would you need to start thinking about it?  How do you discuss items that might change your space?





      The end of Blockbusters…

      23 09 2010

      OK, well it is potentially the end of Blockbuster Inc.  This morning Blockbuster filed for chapter 11 protection.  It is a great example of the Risk of being the market leader.  They owned the market, they were on top of the world.  I am sure during their heyday money was being thrown all over the place.

      I would love to hear these questions answered:

      The trap of leadership is that you often have to wait and see the result.  You are often not allowed to change your business model until it is too late.  If you change it when you probably need to and a loss occurs, then everyone loses their jobs.  The analysts would quickly call out leadership saying that they lost market share because of the business model shift.  Even it is was a great move that would ultimately save the company, our short term focus is entirely too great.

      It is also difficult to understand the nature of the perceived threat.  I am sure there were a couple of times when Management said “what do we do about NetFlix and the changes in the market?”  I would guess that 10% market share did not scare anyone, nor 20%.  Yet, at this point there was too much momentum.

      As leaders, when do we act?

      If we react too soon, we risk looking prone to panic.  We can always explain it easier after the fact.  Our egos, politics in general, and concern about saving face probably drive more decisions than anyone would ever want to admit.

      All to often we push harder on marketing and sales to cover shortfalls in market share.  I would be willing to bet that the company spent more time creating sales spiffs and getting creative in terms of finances, than investing in new business models.  What this leads to is a further entrenchment into the business model, a “we can weather this storm” mentality.

      I wonder what would have happened if they would have set hard targets in terms of driving action.  What if they would have said “once our market share slips by 10%, I want a meeting where we come up with 5 new business models”.  We are just not trained to think about creating very specific action.

      We ponder and delay (then get out and let someone else handle the mess).





      Advanced Analytics

      22 03 2010

      A major item organizations grapple with is the concept of advanced analytics.  They want it, but have little idea how to use the various tools to make it happen.  Unfortunately too much information often blurs the lines.

      For example, I watched a sales presentation on Predictive Analytics where the key outcome showed how to build databases with the tool yet almost completely missed the fact that the real benefit should have been something like “we were able identify two segments to target a marketing program for more effectiveness.  Instead of spending $500k on a generic campaign we were able to identify key attributes that drove increased customer interaction and focus the campaign to only $200k on those segments.”

      Why is this? The primary reason is we do not truly understand the tools and how best to use them.  A Swiss army knife is not good for home repair, but is the perfect tool to throw in a hockey bag, or car trunk for occasional use as a widget to get you out of a jam – a screw needs to be tightened, a shoelace needs to be cut, or an apple peeled.  We need to understand which tool to use in the most appropriate situation instead of thinking of various tools as universal.

      Business Intelligence, Planning, What-If Scenario Tools, Optimization, Dashboarding, Scorecarding, Cubes, Cluster Analysis, Predictive Analytics are all different tools for vastly separate purposes yet have similar uses.

      Advanced Analytical Tools

      Here are the core elements of Advanced Analytical tools:

      • Business Intelligence – great for creating an enterprise-wide, data visualization platform.   If you do this right, you should create a single version of the truth for various terms within an organization.  It should enable better reporting consistency standards for the organization.  In the end, it reports what the data says.
        • Scorecard & Dashboards – These are primarily BI tools that have a more organized or structured methodology for presenting ideally the Key Performance Indicators.  These are great tools, but to be most effective, they need a specific purpose that is highly integrated into a management process.
      • Enterprise Scenario Planning – Most enterprise planning exercises are giant what-if scenarios that try to plan out financial outcomes based on a series of drivers (employees, widgets, sales reps, etc.).  We build out plans based on a number of assumptions, like the average sales rep drives $2mil in business, or benefit costs for the year are going to be #of employees * average salary * 2.  We do this primarily to lay out a game plan for the year and we do it as part of an annual or rolling cycle.
      • Tactical or Ad-Hoc What-if Scenario Analysis – Besides the full scale project we do to plan out the company’s cash outlays, we also do a significant amount of smaller, typically tactical “what-if” scenario tests.  This is traditionally done in Microsoft Excel.  We dump a bit of data into excel, make a number of assumptions and try to build out likely scenarios.  For example, “if we were to create a customer loyalty program, what would be the cost and a likely reward.”  We are doing this to test ideas, so yes it might be ideal to bolt those into the Enterprise planning tool, but it typically takes too much overhead.  It is easier to just get something done quickly, then make a go/no go decision.
        • Data Visualization can also be a great help with this – to bolt on a couple of reports to see the data and how different scenarios impact the various facts and dimensions.  This can help us with our conclusions and recommendations.
      • Predictive Analytics – This tool is best used when we have historical data, or representative data set and we want to make a conclusion based on mathematics.   The key is math.  This is not guessing, it is improving the chances of being right with math, or a structured approach to remove risk from decision making.  With a planning tool, we primarily use assumptions to create plans.  We cannot use predictive analytics for all decisions, but for a few specific types of decisions:
        • What transaction details and customer insight can we use to determine credit card fraud?
        • What customer attributes create our buying segments?
        • Which customers are most likely to abandon our offering?
        • What products are most often purchased together?
        • Which taxpayers most likely need to be audited?
      • Optimization Analytics – This is perhaps the most specific advanced analytics tool when looking to solve the specific business question: “With the given parameters of these trade-offs, which mix of resources creates the most effective (or efficient) use of those resources?” This helps make decisions around production locations and product investment.  Like predicative analytics, it is mathematically based (though you may need to make a couple of assumptions as well) in how it determines the answer.

      Advanced Analysts

      Another reason we lack understanding is analysts.  Our analysts are commonly from the IT team, trained in data structures, or from the finance team, trained in accounting.  Neither is wrong, they just have a default mindset that falls back on using the tool they best know.  This lacks the business/statistical trained person who can both layout the hypothesis and, more importantly, explain the results.

      We do not want correlation explained in R-squared values, “63% of the variation of the data is explained by our independent variables.”  While this may make sense to other statisticians and mathematicians, it is lost on the business.   One key value of using a math-based concept is that the explanation should sound more like, “We have found a way to decrease fraud by 3.2%, which should result in a $576K return to the business every quarter” or “We have tested our marketing campaigns and have found three segments that are 25% more likely to purchase based on the campaign, which should result in a payback period of 3 months.”

      The right tool with the right skill set is imperative to successfully using advanced analytics.  We also need the discipline to have the right people using the right tools for the right information to drive action.  If you have an algorithm that predicts customer defection, you need to use it and test the results.  It is never going to be perfect, but in most cases, you can bet it will be better than not using it at all.





      Clients are Impatient

      3 01 2010
      • How much time do we spend making the customer experience simple?
      • Is the customer on-boarding process painful, or straight forward?
      • Do customers get lost in our beauracracy, our legal needs?
      • How many customers do we lose in those final steps?

      We spend tremendous time developing technology – whether externally for paying customers, or internally for process improvement.  Yet, we often spend very little time planning for the adoption phase.

      What do our customers want – stuff just to work the first time, to be easy to use and provide the value they paid for.   If we are spending millions, if not billions on product development, why do we not start with the end in mind (see Jonathan Becher’s – Manage by Walking Around blog)?  Especially in the age of the internet, people need to be able to sign up and get started without complexity, nor mind-numbing data entry.  There is a time and a place for each of those, and it is not necessarily right after “hello”.

      One great shiny example is Apple.  Most of their products are far more simple to operate than their competitors.  Think of how easy to use each of their products are, then think about using them as part of a network of parts and it gets even more simple to use.





      Can we learn from Mite Hockey?

      30 12 2009

      In youth hockey, the youngest  group (6-8 year olds) is called mites.  Watching a mite hockey game, especially with the players in their first games, is a unique experience.  Watching a kid on a breakaway is everything, an amalgam of excitement, anticipation, worry, dread.  You feel like you can chew off all your fingernails from the time the play starts to when the play ends.

      Why? Purely the speed in which the play happens.  It takes too long.

      Think about the speed of change within an organization.  If it takes too long, it probably doesn’t happen.  We talk about burning platforms, or Machiavellian-like beheadings.  Employees don’t like change, but what they really don’t like is the not knowing what the other side will look like.  So why do we draw this stage out?

      • Why do we take forever to move some projects?
      • Why do we announce reorganizations, and then take months to make it happen?
      • How much artificial time do we add to a number of the things we do, and what is the value of that time?
      • What is the impact if act twice as quickly as the day before?

      If you need to get something done, get the right minds on it, have a discussion and be done with it.





      Telling a Story

      28 12 2009

      “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” Luke in Cool Hand Luke (played by Paul Newman)

      A friend of mine sent this video along to a number of friends in the Business Intelligence space, saying we need to be better story tellers (Thanks Katie McCray).  We do spend an enormous amount of time talking about data structures, common data dictionaries, ease of use, speed, consistency, etc.  What we typically fail to do is tell our clients how to create information, to tell the story in a convincing enough manner to create attention, and more importantly, enable action.

      As analysts we typically spend more time talking about data discovery, and the calculations we used than starting off by making our point.  We try to create 50 charts to explain everything, and not the one chart that most simply illustrates our point.  This not only wastes time, but we lose our audience.

      Watch the next couple of presentations you sit through and watch the number of slides that build up to the point trying to be made.  What happens is that with each slide our listeners pay less and less attention as they have lost the point trying to be made.  As learners, we need the point to be made first.  We need to see how it all comes together, then have it explained how to get there.  It provides the context for the point to be made.  People now understand what to listen for and why they are listening.

      On a slightly different note, last week I wrote about the housing market and the Dangers of Leading Indicators.  I had to update the post due to a new story with a different viewpoint that ran in the Globe on the 23rd.  Amazing how story tellers can tell such dramatically different things.





      Predictive Analytics, Business Intelligence, and Strategy Management

      9 12 2009

      I was having a discussion with one of my clients this week and I thought he did a nice job summing up Predicative Analytics.

      So in the World According to Reed (WOTR) – “queries answer questions, analytics creates questions.” My response was “and Strategy Management helps us to focus on which questions to answer.”

      Reed Blalock is exactly right, traditional BI is about answering the questions we know. Analytics is really what we create with data mining – we look for nuances, things that might give us new insight into old problems. We use human intellect to explore and test. And yes, there is a little overlap. But what is really happening is that we have a different level of human interaction with the data.

      BI is about history, analytics attempts to get us to think, to change, and idealistically to act.

      The danger with both of these is that they can be resource intensive. Neither tool, or mindset should be left to their own devices. What is needed is a filter to identify the priority and purpose. This is where strategy management and scorecarding comes into play. We have built out massive informational assets without understanding where, when, and how to use it. We have pushed out enormous reporting structures and said “it’s all there, you can find anything you need” yet we scratch our heads when we see adoptions levels are low.

      What we have typically not done all that well is build out that informational asset by how it helps us be more productive along product lines, divisions, sales region, etc. We have treated all dimensionality the same. Why, because it was easy. The BI tools are tremendous in how quickly you can add any and all dimensions.

      “But because you can, doesn’t mean you should”

      As we built out these data assets, we did not align them to performance themes.  We have gotten better with some key themes, like supply chain management, and human resource management, but what about customer performance?  We might look at sales performance, but that is a completely different lens than customer performance.

      How do we determine which assets to start with…what assets do we need to be successful 3-5 years from now, or what are our biggest gaps to close today.  Think about customer value, or employee satisfaction (and that doesn’t mean more HR assets).  Think about your gaps in Strategy.

      How often do we discuss…

      • Are our customers buying more or less frequently?
      • What are our best, and better customers doing?
      • What are the costs associated with serving our least profitable customers?
      • Where are our biggest holes in understanding?




      The Death of the Dissenting Opinion

      16 11 2009

      Typically, the person with the shortest shelf life within an organization (either in terms of politics or employment) is the team member willing to pose the question, “Is this the right thing?”

      • Why do we demand everyone line up and support management philosophy?

      I know organizations don’t set this as a mandate, and it is probably more an example of personal politics, but it is amazing how destructive this mentality becomes. Why are we so worried about having someone in our business ask critical questions?

      The are obvious examples when we need someone to play the role of the Devil’s advocate.

      • Would tobacco products have been created with such strong addictives?
      • Would Nasa have launched the shuttle Challenger?
      • Had the US intelligence agencies worked together, might we have stopped at least one of the fateful 9/11 planes?
      • Would Enron still be an energy giant today if we listened to employee concerns?

      We love good debates, so why not embrace the power of dissenting opinion?  Collect all the feedback and you probably have a stronger argument for moving forward.  In the end, you can still continue an initiative or program.  When we politically assassinate the people with a strong voice, we send a message to agree or be rendered ineffective.  This evolves into a “yes” culture and we risk leading lemmings.








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