Analytics Process

23 11 2009

Over the last couple of months I have been writing about a handful of US Economic Indicators.  While I have reviewed these over the last few years of my life, I had not done so on a regular basis.  This inconsistent and let’s call it a casual curiosity lead to never really understanding the implications behind the numbers.  Sure I could talk about them, but I could not leverage them.  While not an expert by any means, I can see a lot more now than I did when I started this blog series.

This is similar to ad-hoc analysis without purpose.  We do something once and create a little hype.  When we don’t have any vehicle to take advantage of the newly found ideas, the idea dies as does the learning.

Think about the process of how you handle ad-hoc analytics within your organization:

  • Do you have the right minds constantly looking for new issues?
  • Or, do you put the right minds on solving issues when they arise?
  • Can you name your best analytical minds?  Are they assigned to thought leadership and problem solving?
  • Do you use your analytical minds to challenge the knowledge levels of others?
  • How do you foster new thinking?

 

Consistency breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds knowledge





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.





Defining the Customer – Brandwagon

9 11 2009

One of my favorite strategy quotes is Michael Porter’s – “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

It is easy to jump on what we perceive as good deals, or trends.  Take for example my old story about Patagonia after Sarah Palin stated Patagonia as one of her favorite brands.  Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of seemingly a guaranteed increase in sales, they choose to distance themselves from Sarah Palin with the following quote:

“Patagonia’s environmental mission greatly differs from Sarah Palin’s,” Patagonia rep Jen Rapp told the WSJ. “Just wearing the clothing of an environmental company does not necessarily make someone an environmentalist.”

Or when Pepsi comes knocking with a “great deal”…

  • How well do we know our customers?
  • Can we use this to our advantage and draw more people in by being selective in what we offer?
  • When Wal~Mart moves into town…do you change what you do, or let them eat up your profits?
  • How unique are you and what value does that create?




The Dow (DJIA) hits 10,000

16 10 2009

On Wednesday this week (October 14, 2009) the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 10,000.  Although it struggled out of the gate this morning, I am curious why we did not take the time to celebrate re-reaching this milestone.  Clearly, this is a sign that the economy is chugging forward again.

If we look back to September 19th, 2008, the DJIA closed at 11,388 and only days away from near free fall.  Over the next couple of days, panic would set in and the markets were paralleled to “The Great Depression.”  The DJIA at 10k represents we have recovered 70% of what we lost since September 19th, 2008.  We still have a way to go, but a little celebration might just be what we need right now.  Not much, we can’t afford the hangover, but perhaps a little toast to reaching 10k again and may we keep doing a little better every day.

Looking back…Between Oct 24th, 2007 and September 19th, 2008, the DJIA shed about 20% of its value (14,093 to 11,388).  It would then lose an additional 34.4% by March 9th 2009 when the market reached its lowest level in 12 years at 6,547.  If we start the clock at Oct 24th, in two years we have recovered about 45% of the losses we incurred during the recession of 2008 and 2009.  Perhaps not as happy a picture, but consistent progress in the right direction.  This still represents ~50% recovery in 6 months, what we lost over two years.  If the trend holds, perhaps we are back to 2007 levels within another 6-8 months, and then can continue to recover on the lost time.

DJIA Recovery

The other item worth noting is the declining variation in the closing gains.  Over the last three months, the variability has diminished to levels not seen during the recession.  This is another great sign indicator of stability and overall economic health.  The market likes gains, but it loves consistency.

DJIA Recovery Variation





Analytics Competency Center

28 09 2009

We spend a lot of time on Business Intelligence, Master Data Management, Data Governance, Standardization, off-shoring, etc., yet I rarely hear organizations spending time and energy on analyzing the data.  We have cubes, we can do all sorts of things with reports and dashboards, yet I still hear people say “I need more information!”

It is impossible that we are short on data!

  • How then are we not getting enough information out to the organization?
  • Is it possible that we are spending all of our time and energy on data preparation and data movement?
  • Are we creating value, or just planning to create value?
  • What about creating a center of excellence around the business user?
  • Or something around the levers of the business?




Performance Management Defined

17 09 2009

Last week I asked Jonathan Becker of Manage by Walking Around blog and Gary Cokins of Closing the Intelligence Gap blog to argue the definition of Performance Management and what it might look like…and in all fairness, I need to also share mine:

Performance Management is composed of three distinct disciplines, Strategy Management, Operational Performance Management, and Financial Performance Management. It is a systematic and standardized management and communication process to proactively enhance performance gaps.

  • Strategy Management – to set direction, foster alignment, and communicate priorities
  • Operational Performance Management – where we execute our goals and objectives by creating customer value along with our core processes.  This is also the most widely defined as each industry handles this somewhat differently, but how we manage it should be integrated with a common process.
  • Financial Performance Management – to provide insight into what resources we have and how best to use through monitoring and reporting upon the budget.

In addition to this we need to use within the same system our enabling support structure.  This includes managing technology, culture, people, etc.  Each element needs to be improved upon based upon strategic need, thus helping to eliminate personal politics and squeaky wheels.  Below is my Performance Management framework.

PM Framework Master

Gary makes a great point that most people create a framework that is intentionally incomplete to enhance their offerings (and I completely agree).   I built the above framework with the goal of a complete framework.  It is not perfect, but I feel provides a strong starting point to assess our process improvement gaps.

In the end, management is just a process, albeit a very important one.  It needs to be enhanced and improved to leverage the most of the management talent.





Employment Situation Aug 2009

9 09 2009

This is a new series of blogs in which I will call out and blog on a number of economic indicators based upon the musings of Bernard Baumohl in The Secrets of Economic Indicators.  In this series, I will work to provide a visual or two to explain the situation as well as a link to the press release.  The goal will be to post a blog covering the reported data and to build out a series of informational charts based upon the data.

Employment Situation is one of the more important indicators of US Economic health, and perhaps even more so in this economic climate.  It provides us an indication if the economy is expanding, or contracting in terms of jobs and therefor money to be spent.  Here is the press release from 9/4/09 which is August 2009 data.

Key points (from press release):

  • Non-Farm payroll employment declined by 219,000
  • Unemployment increased by 466,000 to 14.9 million
  • Unemployment increased to 9.7% (up .3%)
  • While job losses continued, the losses are not as bad as the months before
Aug 2009 Unemployment Data by gender and race

Aug 2009 Unemployment Data by gender and race

Analysis:  We are still losing jobs in the economy.  Teenagers are at almost 2.5x the national average, and minorites having 2x the increase as the average.

Risk:  While we have some indications that the recession is getting better, it is clear we have some elements that still have some ways to go.  If your business is targeted at teenagers and/or minorities you may want to plan for sales to remain weak until the trend at least turns back to positive growth.





Indicators & KPIs

9 09 2009

In a recent Wired magazine article “American Vice: Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins,” (The original was in the Las Vegas Sun’s One Nation, Seven Sins) a group from KSU students did a great job mapping data geographically.  While in no way is the data perfectly accurate, but in the same way it is a logical indication of behavior.  You can spend time arguing the merit of the work, or spend that same time debating the implications of the information.  Either way, it is a rather entertaining visual display of information.

In the business world, we struggle from trying to be perfect, or perhaps afraid of not being completely accurate.  Indicators do not need to be perfect, they just need to trigger a discussion by highlighting the potential of an issue.  The downside is that when we try, we often try to find indicators for everything (spandex rule) and “a point in every direction is like no point at all” (Harry Nilsson, for those who like eccentic music).  Too many indicators and we spend too much time on data collection and visualiztion with no time for analysis and discussion.  The point is to discuss information.





Perceived Value

2 09 2009

As leaders and managers we are trained to think of employees in terms of financial value.  We give financial rewards based ideally on merit and performance.  Unfortunately, we don’t use often enough other types of rewards for motivation and morale.

I have two young children who do not yet demonstrate much grasp of financial matters.  We offered them an allowance in an attempt to motivate routine and good behavior. While we understand the value, neither kid  asked for their allowance in the last year since it was initiated.  Clearly, it is not a motivational tool for our children right now.

Both kids, however, love hockey. My youngest often lets me know she does not have as many hockey cards as her “brudder” and her brother often defaults to creating quiet games with those same cards.  It seems only natural to use the cards as a motivational device.  We will have to see how it plays out, but a couple of days in I can already see a marked difference.  What are the financial tradeoffs – the hockey card budget is about 50% of what I would spend on allowance.

  • When was the last time you created a “pat on the back” program?
  • Could you do something different to motivate project completion?
  • When was the last time you walked around the organization with $100 bills and randomly rewarded people doing the right thing?




Snowblowers and investing in tools

24 08 2009

How often do parents buy snowblowers right after their kids leave the nest?

Good employees often understand the tools they need to best do their jobs.  Good analytical minds usually look for different ways to extract new information out of large data sets.  This requires access to new tools, frameworks, and methodologies.  If we are not reinvesting in improving our analyical capabilities, we risk losing our best people as they quest other ways to challenge themselves.  We are then required to invest in the tools we declined to compensate for a loss of analytical brain power.

Instead of purchasing tools after a star analyst leaves, we need to find fresh ways to challenge analytical minds.  We can do a much better job of pointing people in new directions, or finding new ways to derive value.  Otherwise, we’re left investing in expensive equipment to do necessary tasks.





Jargon

19 08 2009

This is from Paul Bayne, a guest blogger:

When you’re listening to a presentation, how often do you hear the current management buzz words or internal company acronyms? Do they add depth to the message, or do they serve to increase the status of the presenter by making them appear more versed or knowledgable? When looking back at the information in a historical context, will the language enhance the meaning, or will it detract from it? I worked with a consulting manager who was famous for his use of buzz words. The following paragraph was compiled from the 55 buzzwords used during one 90 minute conference call:

I’m trying to level set your assumptions, so we can then incorporate these concepts into the communication plan’s talk track for an apples to apples comparison of the current state/future state. That should give us the safety net and support mechanism we need to factor into as we create the coathooks to harden the numbers in the discussion document, strategically migrating to a closely aligned, re-engineered future state opportunity model. We’ll then drive away from the shadow tracking spreadsheets into a conference room pilot where we can more effectively and efficiently operate in sandbox mode to hardwire the black box into an actionable white box.

Does your use of language provide clarity to your thoughts and actions, or does it communicate very little while saying very much?





Baseball is life…

13 08 2009

A while back I wrote a blog about the similarities of a little league baseball team and how we conduct meetings.   In that blog I talked about meeting effectiveness and preparedness.  A similar story can be told about projects…

One of my favorite kids on my team loves to be involved.  In fact, too much so.  No matter where he is or what the situation, he will call for the ball.  If he is in left field, with nobody on base, he will call for the ball as soon as someone picks it up.  While at this age it invokes a smile from most (except the kid who responds, only to be embarrassed they made the wrong play).  It is impossible not to love the kid, he is always smiling and truly loves playing baseball.

This also is not unlike how we choose projects/initiatives, or who leads them.  We typically choose the most spirited person in the room, people we like, or people who will do what is in our personal best interest.

  • How often do we choose the best person for the role?
  • What happens to the dissenting opinion?
  • What happens to the person with the dissenting opinion?
  • How often do your projects provide concrete value within a desired timeframe?
  • Do you put differing opinions on the team specifically to see what happens?
  • How often do you throw a ball to left field because someone yelled for you?




People, Process, and Technology

12 08 2009

In every BI vendor’s marketing material is the traditional People, Process, Technology venn diagram.  The promise is that leveraging the combination of the three will unlock enhanced results.

Traditional Venn

In order to use this for performance management, we need to rethink the original deisgn.  First we need a vision on how to bring these together and communicate what matters and how it will be done.  We also need to bring a focus on getting only the right things done and specifically not doing the wrong things.  Words (and diagrams) do little in terms of actions.  For us to achieve sustained performance, we need to understand and communicate which processes can create value (and which do not), what technology it will require, and a focused management process to ensure they get done in a timely manner.

Venn New

As you design your game plans, you need to make sure you are developing not only a plan but how success will be defined:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • Who gets to define it?
  • How will it be managed?
  • What happens if it goes wrong?
  • Who would provide the best rational for the disenting opinion?




Politics and Upstaging

6 08 2009

President Obama and the Clintons relationship may have just changed.  Rumors have circled that Obama has been making efforts to keep Hillary out of the public eye intentionally.  Bill, in an act worthy of an ex-President, managed to secure the release of a couple of US journalists from North Korea.

Leaders do this for many reasons, and not always for the right reasons.  We can say it is for the best in order to show who is the leader, keep the message consistent, but behind each of these are jealousy, ego, and fear.  Leaders are human as well and suffer the same issues.

Yet, this situation is a little different.  Bill in some aspects upstaged both Obama and Hillary.  It appears that Bill would only go if he received White House approval, but then again what were they going to say?  Did the Clintons just take some of the spotlight?  Or will it be forgotten by the end of the week.

Ahh, politics!!!

As leaders and managers, how do limit the impact of personal politics within the work force?  These can often play out in destructive ways.  Inititiaves undermined because managers don’t like each other, or are vying for the same promotion.  While people often talk about using information to battle politicing, it is much more of a cultural issue.





Design for Information

4 08 2009

All to often reports are designed to provide data, not information.  There are charts and tables with little intrepretation, or description.  While I am not great fan of PowerPoint, it can often make up for Enterprise BI limitations.  We can call out certain areas within the charts and graphs, as well as add the commentary to help us communicate our point.

A safe assumption is that the person reading the report will not have the same understanding of the material as the report designer, or analyst.  It is then our job to make sure that the report communicates the point clearly.  The last thing you want is to hear “what are you trying to show me?”

Below is a good example of presenting data, while not telling us much.  Here we see that he/she has a few fans that are frequent contributors, and that tweet volume picks up around the lunch hour.  There is not much variation for the days of the week, with a little drop off for the weekend.  August is also the most popular month.

twitter2008-1

What would be helpful to know is why this data is important to us.  What perhaps would be the most important is to know the subject material, so we could do things like tweet just before lunch as that seems to be the most popular time to inspire reaction.  Or that August tweets were up due to an embarassing grammatical error.

As we are designing reports, make sure that the information has a purpose.  Most specifically, know the audience and know the potential actions the information is going to inspire.





Price of Distraction

21 07 2009

Over the weekend, I was telling the story of Informix (now part of IBM) and the number of databases it tried to market and sell.  At one point in time, Informix marketed the following databases:

  • Standard Engine (SE) /OnLine 5 / IDS 7 / IDS 9 /RedBrick

It then aquired Ardent Software and added two more databases, UniVerse and UniData.  While the company was looking to build a data warehouse focused organization, the database was taking less and less focus.  There were a number of problems the company was facing.

  • There were not enough people at that time who could sell the complex technology well
  • The market was not really ready for the high end product
  • Each change in leadership elevated a different product to the forefront
  • A confused customer base
  • A skillful competitor in Oracle
  • A little SEC troubles

Informix itself is a great case study.  At one point, I simply asked the question “what if we sell OnLine 5 and SE to remove the distraction?”  Both OnLine 5 and SE were great products in their day, unfortunately those days were long past.  Both products still did somewhat well in the VAR space and were highly profitable the late 90’s.  My rationale was that we only made $10 million a year on each and most of that was profit.  We were shooting for the $1 billion plateau in annual sales and a $10 million product was a rounding error.

At the time I was the product manager for all of the legacy products, which accounted for approximately 50-60% of the companies revenues.  I answered enough requests for OnLine 5 and SE to understand that they were a distraction to the sales force.

Going back to the Seth Godin blog on “don’t sell to bar owners” this is a perfect example where the sales force was not equiped effectively enough to sell the product line.  And most importantly, the customer was confused into what they needed to buy.

  • Is your product strategy consistent and in line with customer needs?
  • Can your sales and marketing teams, concisely explain the positioning of each of the products?
  • Does the customer get what they need, or what the sales rep wants to push?
  • Do sales compensation plans align with customer need?

In the end, the lack of performance resulted in the company being aquired by IBM.  All companies reach stall points, make sure your don’t create your own stall points.  And if you do, recognize your actions and work to minimize the distraction and inconsistency.





Perfection to Value

16 07 2009

One of the areas where performance takes a giant hit is in the area of project initiaition or closure.  And this is further complicated by personal preferences, politicing, and portfolio management.

In the diagram below there are three lines.  Line A is Corporate or Organization expectation of the trade off between speed and perfection.  Projects or tasks with little value (lower left corner) should require lower expectations of research, analytical thought, and discussion.  While projects that are higher in value (farther up to the right) should have higher expectations on quality of thought and preparation.

Perfection to Value Trends2

What happens all too often is we see line C where people don’t have the capacity or time to do the right job and throw something together.  We see that in the end we deliver far less than desired while wasting resources.  The small blue box is the value received, the red box is the wasted resources, and the green box was the original expected value of the project.  The arc is the value frontier, which demonstrates the trade off value between speed and quantity – or what we expect in terms value created from a combination of speed and quality.

Quality vs Speed - Speed

Or we have line B where we basically have a failure to launch because we spend all of our time debating how to be perfect.  Very similar to the situation with line C where we deliver far less than originally desired while wasting similar resources.

Quality vs Speed - Quality

Portfolio Management

Is this an individual issue, or a management issue?  If we were to plot out the results of the individual projects how would your organization look?

Perfection to Value Management2

If we were to see trends like the circles above, this would indicate a management problem.  As management either did not get the individual(s) to move back to the expected line, or management places to high a premium on either speed or perfection thus artificially altering expecations.

What I have witnessed is that line B is more often the norm.  Line C typically causes painful exposure, which causes people to be more fearful, thus needing more inputs and more support.  This creates more meetings, more approvals, more time, more people, which again causes more information, more analysis, more debate.  It is a vicious circle.

Failure to Act is a companion blog.





Pretty Words

15 07 2009

Listening to Sonia Sotomayor retrack her “wise Latina” comments made me think about an old Vince Gill song – Pretty Words.  “They’re just pretty words” seemed about right.  This is often the role of the politician, to say things that make people feel better.  We have limited manner in which to hold them to their words, so we often judge the words based on if we believed what they were saying.  Think of how we now perceive Roger Clemens, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, and the steroid gang.

One of the problems we have as leaders is an overuse of pretty words.  We are often asked questions that can not be answered at that time, thus forcing us to spin a response:

  • Are we having layoffs?
  • Are we selling the company?

While these hurt credibility with the front line, they are necessary to keep some level of sanity and productivity.  Yet, what happens when executive communication seems to be only about spin and pretty words.  If the rank and file feel “pretty words is all he is giving you” then we have a problem with communication and trust.  If these are broken, you can bet productivity is no where near optimal levels.

As executives and leaders we can know, or we can think we know if people are listening.  What I have often seen is that the good ones assume they don’t know and find out – thus reinforcing positive communication.

  • When was the last time you had an outside, independent team assess “trust” in the organization?
  • What would be the value to the organization?
  • What if you hear something you don’t like?