Data Warehouse Design

24 06 2009

One of the main problems with Data Warehouses is that they are designed to answer any question.  The problem is that they usually fail to answer the one someone is asking.  DWs are usually good for referencial information – meaning I can answer questions like “how many customers do we have that have spent over $100,000” or “which customers bought the blue widget.”

There are a number of points of failure that hamper DW projects:

  • They are usually complex and very costly
  • The business changes (regions, product lines, sales heirarchies, etc) in the middle of the process
  • The end use is not well defined
  • Lack of analytical skill and knowledge of data structure in the business users to get the right data
  • The end result is too complex for the users to understand where to go to get the right information
  • No one tells the organization “thou shalt” use the data warehouse – so people get data from all different sources making a common version of the truth difficult to get to
  • There are often no rules of engagement for how to use the environment, or data in general

If organizations only use 6-10% of the data they collect, how do you design the DW for greater adoption?

For starters, understand the common business questions and the potential levers that can be pulled. For example, one of the areas that always surprises me is the lack of information around the success of marketing campaigns. Marketing campaigns and price are really the only levers we can pull in the short term to increase revenues. What we often fall back to is the sales whip – where we put more pressure on the sales team to perform. This is a strategy of hope (which is not a recognized as a successful strategy practice). We apply the pressure without providing much in the terms of support.

Instead let’s say we are ending the 3rd quarter and our numbers are a little behind and the pipeline is not as strong as we would like.  We know we have some time, but the programs have to be very tactical to find low hanging fruit. Instead of reviewing the potential marketing programs or trying something new, we cross our fingers and yell at the sales team. We could cull the DW to find large groups of customers who had not bought specific groups of products and offer incentives for them to buy.  We could identify the groups/verticals of customers with the shortest sales cycle and build a promotion and program for them as well.

Yet why do we not do this…we typically lack the information in a format we can use in a timely manner.

So if we design the data warehouse (or perhaps data marts) around specific business levers we stand a better chance of answering the one question we need. We just might trigger some very interesting questions about our business.






Pain Mapping

21 06 2009

What is the value of Strategy & Operational Performance Management?

  • What if we were to fix a couple critical customer value processes by 5%?
  • If you decrease your discounting by 5% what is the value to the organization?
  • What does it cost you to continue to serve unprofitable customers?

Below are a couple of maps to identify where things begin to break down and how understanding where to start can create the best path to solving the problem.

StratMgt Pain Map

If we understand our pricing and discounting policies and proceedures we are better able to enhance the negotiation process by arming the sales force with additional material.  We stand a far better chance to negotiate on value, not just price.

Price Disc Pain Map

By understanding our cost to serve our clients we are putting in place critical analytical models about resource allocation.  We understand our good customers and our bad and use these in negotiation or plans.

Cost to Serve Pain Map





Going Green

17 06 2009

There are a number of ways companies are “greening.”

  • Some are creating green initiatives and tasks
  • Some are creating green strategic objectives
  • Some are merely applying green make up

In all likelihood, the success will be based upon the level of seriousness and commitment the organization applies.  This is a fad, and leaders will emerge.  Those leaders will reap enormous benefits, the others will be average.

Traditionally, we have talked about 3 business focuses:  Product Leadership, Customer Intimacy, and Operational Excellence.  In each of these cases, you could link “green” strategic objectives, initiatives, and policies into each of these categories.  You could also create a 4th category to trigger discussions about priority and focus of the organization.  A great example here is Patagonia.  They live their commitment to evnironmental stewardship as they understand their clients playground is the environment.

Patagonia Strategy Map

Sample Strategy Map - designed from public documents

During the 2008 Presidential race, Sarah Palin created a great amount of buzz for a number of products.  Patagonia bucked the trend in support of their beliefs:

“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.”

  • How committed are you to the success of your green programs?
  • Are you ready to forgo revenue today, for sustainable benefits?
  • Is green an executive agenda, a marketing initiative, or grass roots initiative?




KPI Design: Better than average

16 06 2009

In the June 1st issue of ESPN Magazine there was an interesting story about Rafael Nadal.  In the story there is a call out with some interesting facts about his play.  One of the items is his rotations per ground stroke versus the average pro.

Nadal Math Smaller
While this is fanatastic information to explain why he is better than average, what might have been more relevant to the article which is about his excellence would be to compare him versus the other top players.  What if all the top players are hitting at 5,000-6,000 rotations per ground stroke?

As we are designing KPIs and targets we need to make sure we are measuring against a relevant target, not just an industry average.





KPI Library: Profit per Employee

14 06 2009

If you are looking for a productivity or effectiveness KPI, a sure place to start is revenue per employee (unless you are in the public sector).

  • It is a straight forward calaculation
  • It is easy for every employee to get their heads around
  • It is a measure of scalability
  • It is a crtical measure for long term success
  • It triggers great conversations about the health and direction of the company

It has one primary weakness in that it is a lagging indicator.

Similar metrics to this are Revenue per Employee, Expense per Employee, Expense per Sale, Profit per Transaction, Profit per Customer.





Practice

10 06 2009

On of my favorite hobbies is coaching little league baseball.  During a game last year it hit me that many meetings are run in a similar manner.  Pardon me for the comparision, but the similarities can provide a little humor at a process that all too often needs improvement.

As I watched, I noticed I had three outfielders playing in the dirt, my third baseman had one foot in foul territory, and my second baseman was standing on second base.  I also had a few players that were ready, on their toes, and prepared.

  • How often at your meetings do you have the back of their room paying sporadic attention while most of their focus is either on their laptop or blackberry?
  • How many people do you have playing by their own rules?
  • What percent of the room is prepared and actively participating in the meeting?

As a coach, we know we need a game plan.  Yet often we “wing it” because of experience and love for the game.   Sometimes this works, and sometimes not-so-much.

During practice, we can move people into groups of like needs and work at different speeds to excel learning (or at least repetition).  We can redo things as many times as necessary.  We can freely move people into different positions.

We have the luxury of a practice schedule – organizations and managers do not.  They have to learn while doing.  They do not get trophies for participation.  We need our people to be prepared and active in a meeting or else we are not maximizing our use of time.

If the meeting is to understand a performance issue, then we need to have someone write up the issue and send a brief summary to the team.  We need the rest of the team to have read the brief, done their relevant research, and prepared a list of potential recommendations to discuss.  The meeting should not be about discussing what research needs to be done – it should be about looking at the research and agreeing upon a course of action.





Why, Ask Why

1 06 2009

I recently watched the 2005 documentary Enron: The smartest guy in the room.  What struck me more this time was the tagline “Ask Why”, yet it appeared more like “Why, Ask Why” in the animation.  

Most organizations promote “yes” men and women.  They want people to just agree and move on.  Part of this is that we lack a mechanism to challenge conventional wisdom or leadership opinion.  While this is dangerous on a few levels, it also stiffles innovation and ultimately performance potential.

  • When was the last time you found a new way to value a customer?
  • When was the last time you found a way to measure process improvement on a key process?
  • When was the last time you specifically assigned a trusted advisor to attack business assumptions?
  • What happened to the last really good change agent in the organization?

All to often we answer requests with “yes, we can do that” when we should on occasion ask “why do you want to do that.” We need to break old molds and challenge ourselves to create a culture of action, a culture of 5% better everyday.





Focus on Operational Performance Management

26 05 2009

When was the last time you discussed how your customers were performing?  Do you have a formula to determine their lifetime revenue potential?  And what it costs to serve them?  Does this determine how you segment and market to your customers?  Do your sales people use this value as a tool in the negotiation of price?

Basically how do you manage customer performance?

One of my clients was a credit card processing shop and what we found was that they were spending $4 for every $1 they were collecting from bad debts.  While it was not the whole story, it was evident that we needed to better understand the customer lifecycle.  This client did have specific marketing programs and processes, but they had not been challenged in quite some time and were common industry practices.  

What we find out when we look at commonly held beliefs is that their assumptions are no longer (if they ever were) valid.  We get into a groove of momentum that we find difficult to change our beliefs and behaviors.  We also lack a mechanism and the focus to understand which processes to look at.  One of the most critical to me is around customer performance.  

Ask yourself if you know which customers are driving profits and which are destroying them?  If not, this might be the best place to start thinking about improving insight and process improvement.





Manage vs. Monitor

21 05 2009

It has always struck me as a little odd that a great deal of marketing literature in the Business Intelligence and Performance Management space talks about “monitoring” performance.  Isn’t the entire goal of this space to help companies actively “manage” their business.  My concern is that “monitoring” assumes that all is well unless some alarm is triggered.  

While it is fine for the thermastat to monitor temperature, perhaps business is a tad more complex.  Instead of waiting for things to get to a threshhold, we need to understand a number of things that all work more or less together to explain a more complex concept.  

Instead of just showing up for a meeting, what if we focus on creating a culture of being prepared for a meeting.  We can then use Business Intelligence as a organized and focused set of tools to help with our prep work.





Is Strategy top of Mind

10 05 2009

I recently read a few blogs from Jonathan D. Becher and it reminded me of a couple of stories.  I did a couple of webinars a year or so ago with the lead in being a question about how well do you know your corporate strategies.  What I consistently found was that 80%+ of the respondants could not cite the strategy off the top of their head.  This is clearly not new research as their are a number of people/companies that cite very similar numbers.  

I think there are a number of factors at play here:

  • Corporate Strategy has no lasting communication vehicle.  It is often discussed in conference calls and writen on walls, but we have no effective, living tool.  We need to build a communication plan around articulating strategy.  Here is a reference to an older blog of mine on Strategy Maps that touches on this subject.
  • We often lack a consistent framework for Strategy (or a single version of the truth), so we end up with a number of different frameworks for defining strategic objectives.  Corporate uses one framework, the business units another, and then each department creates something new as well.  What we end up with is too many messages and no clarity into priorities.  All of this becomes to difficult for anyone person to understand, so they just go about their day doing the things that want to do or that are easy to do.
  • We also have unstated strategic objectives, or as Oski refers to them in a comment on this blog post, “shadow strategies” where the organization says one thing, but actually does another. 
  • There is also personal politics and empire building that is probably more widely used than anyone would care to admit.  I have seen too many examples where people talk more about how big their team is than provide the value their team creates.  If this is what is top of mind, it is probably an indicator of their motivation.  
  • We don’t have a strategy management process.  Strategy is done independently from budget, or we hire some consulting firm to develop it and then the binders and reports are placed in an archive.




Customer Lifecycle Value

1 05 2009

Depending upon on how well your know your business, a great discussion to have somewhat regularily is whether or not the customer lifecycle value is increasing or decreasing.  To achieve this we need to know a few things…

  • How much has the customer purchased from us?
  • How long are they likely to stay with us?
  • What does it cost us to serve them?

None of these are necessarily easy questions to answer, but that does not mean we should not talk about these items. Worst case, you should at least be looking at the average revenue and cost per client and see how those are changing. They are probably pretty good indicators of lifecycle value.  If we look at the trends of our revenues, costs (COGS & SGA), and profits per customer this should certainly indicate if we are doing better or worse.

While most of us do this to some degree, we probably also throw in a great deal many more variables and business rules and end up discussing various concepts. What about once a month or once a quarter getting all the department heads together and discuss progress on only these items.





Business Math – Drivers and Levers

28 04 2009

I once listened to the VP of a services business unit describe the levers available to him to drive the business.  Here is his formula.  While I agree with him about the formula, it was clear that we need to understand the difference between levers and drivers.  

old-formula

If these were all just levers, would we not be justified in pulling the levers as quickly and as hard as we can?  If we make a small adjustment to the formula, we can take the argument another step farther.

revised-formula

If we breakdown Average Deal Size into its components of hours and rate, we identify the one item that can probably be used as a short term lever – Rate.  We can lower or raise our rates much easier than the other items.  The other items require longer term programs.  We need to train our sales force on new ways to improve winning percentages and shorten sales cycles.  We need to create marketing programs to find new opportunities.

It is one thing to understand the drivers of the business, but we usually need to build programs around the levers to understand how they impact the business and how/when they should be used.  If we are not actively managing the levers, they are really just mathmatical drivers.





Is a failed action the same as a failure to act?

27 04 2009

Over the weekend, Seth Godin blogged about making timely decisions.  It brought to mind a number of items worth additional discussion.  One of my favorite sayings is “we should do something” when managers are shown a potential issue.  It is usually followed up with a flurry of meetings, too much information, and less than a clear path forward.  While frustrating, it became clear over time that we often lack a process to consider, debate, and ultimately put ad-hoc course corrrections into action.  It was also appearant that we suffer from a culture that uses information overload to decline action based on the need for additional information.

To make a little more sense of it, here is a two by two grid that shows the risk and rewards of whether action was created and whether it was correct or not.  The goal of this was to highlight perhaps the personal motivations behind action or lack thereof.

the-risk-of-action2

Creating action is more likely to cause the extremes in risk versus reward, while delaying or taking no action is often the safer route.  While companies need to take risks to lead within the market, employees may not have the same motivations.  Is the potential for a promotion, worth the risk of falling out of favor?  Do we, as company policy, reward action financially?  Is a failed action the same as a failure to act?





Because you can…doesn’t mean you should

14 04 2009

We do a number of things in the name of business intelligence.  We say we have to have real time information.  We have to have hundreds of reports.  We have to be able to look at everything in every direction.

Business Intelligence software promises us this and make this seem like an achievable goal.  And yes it would be great to know everything about everything and get a perfect 360 degree view of the organization.

Yet it is not really achievable, actually not even close.  Instead ask what are the goals & objectives of the organization, and how does this support that end.  We are very quick to say “we can do that” but we need to temper that with “why should we do that?”  Think of the goal of a dashboard – to providereal-time information on a specific subject.  I have known many managers that constantly stare at the screen to see if anything moved.  

What we really need is to understand how to use the function of time and integrate that into a analytical management process.  What would you get more out of, a tactical dial that shows us one KPI, or a meeting at the end of the day to review a number of KPIs?





Scorecards & Dashboards

16 03 2009

These are two terms that the BI world uses interchangably. The only thing they should have in common is that they both can visually display data.

Defined:

  • Scorecards are tools that help facilate discussions around strategy and operational performance management. The indicators (KPIs) should foster discussions about corporate direction, resource allocation, priorities, and initiatives. 
  • Dashboards should be used for tactical discussion triggers, like inventory orders, technical support, phone coverage, etc. 

What should be happening with these tools is a far more structured use for each (and throw in reporting as well). All too often these tools are used without discipline which leads to mulitple versions of the truth, lack of focus, red herrings, miscommunication, and ultimately a waste of time and energy.

IT and business users need to work together to better understand what each tool can provide, when that tool will be used, how it will be used, how it will NOT be used, and who should be using them.





Align to Customer Value

16 03 2009

On thing to consider in terms of developing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is how they are aligned to the customer’s wants.  All to often we ignore this perspective, yet it is perhaps one of the most important factors.  

For example, one of the growing cost saving tools companies use is call automation services.  “For sales, press 1.  For customer service, please hold while we test your patience.”  

Companies do this because they are measuring cost per call, or efficiency.  What the customer really wants is a convenient resolution to their call, or effectiveness.  Clearly these goals are working against each other and in most cases destroys customer loyalty and brand value.  

In the end, we need to balance costs with value, and we need to understand customer and corporate strategy.  Are we focused on customer intimacy as our core business focus, or operational excellence?  Are we measuring the business in a manner that reinforces our business model and customer value creation, or strictly by the bottom line?





Efficiency vs. Effectiveness KPIs

13 03 2009

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be measures of risk to annual goals or strategic objectives.  If we can keep this list of KPIs minimal, we stand a much greater chance of keeping the organizational focus on improving key processes.

To derive these KPIs we need to understand the organizational inputs, outputs, and desired outcomes.  While this is a little academic, it is a good way to start to organize and define your KPIs. Outputs / Inputs are measures of efficiency, while Outcomes / Inputs are measures of effectiveness.  By overlapping the organizational or departmental focus we can align and define these KPIs to make sure they are driving the desired behaviors.  

Tradionally Sales and Marketing goals are to be effective, thus revenue per head, or win percentage are better measures.  While finance and IT are generally geared for efficiency withcost per order, or IT spend per target are more common.  

KPI design is far more difficult than people expect and is often unique to the environment as strategies, objectives, and priorities vary organization to organization.





Scalability as a KPI

7 03 2009

One item that companies should do a better job with is understand departmental scalability.  Are the company grows, do each of the departments grow with the same scale?  Does finance not scale because of compliance and risk, or because of broken processes?  How do we know if we can’t track Revenue / Departmental Headcount over time?

And if we do start to do a better job tracking metrics like this, doesn’t this give us greater insight as to where the organization gets the most bang for the buck?  As well as give us a defensible rational to defend against empire building for personal reasons?




External & Market Indicators

25 02 2009

One item most organizations struggle with is leveraging external indicators. Early last year, the price of gas created a chain reaction. Most companies cost of goods sold increased to where they were forced to raise their prices as their margins eroded.  

Even if we do that, we typically do not have a systematic way to incorporate the learning into a business process. What we would need is the ability to understand the external indicators, know of potential sources for the information, and work these into ongoing environmental scans.  

What is the value of understanding how the consumer price index impacts your revenues? What happens if you were able to move before your customer in terms of supply chain interruption? In some cases, this could mean millions to your top or bottom line. There are a number of organizations that knew the market was struggling in 2008, but did nothing to prepare.  And a number of those names will never be the same (GM, AIG, Circuit City, etc).

When is the last time you did a formal environmental scan, discussed the results, and put new actions into place?





Defining Operational Performance Management (OPM)

12 02 2009

OPM is part of a number of buzzwords within the industry that is often used, yet poorly defined. While it is part of a the Performance Management family (which is also overused, generally accepted, yet not well defined). For us to make the niche more credible it is important to have a generally accepted definition of what it means.

I have tried to frame OPM as a methodology, a framework, a process in which the focus is upon creating value with the customer in mind. Where Financial Performance Management strives to improve the budget development and budget management processes to enhance shareholder value, OPM takes us beyond the constraints of the financial mindset. We need to look at the processes and initiatives that drive customer value creation. Processes and initiatives like sales and marketing, operations, supply chain, pricing and discounting, etc.

It is clear these two legs (OPM & FPM) must work together, and one should not take priority at the expense of the other. All to often our budgetary process becomes our measure of success, even though it is a lagging indicator. Where OPM becomes particularly valuable is that if we are building customer value correctly, it leads to greater financial results. Are we better off to hit our budgets in a year when the market was wildly successful? If the market grew at 10%, yet one grows at their budgeted 8% – was management successful?