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TDWI Blog: Data 360

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The Art of the Quick Win

Let’s face it. Most of our BI programs could use a little boost. Despite our best intentions, our BI programs aren’t getting the traction we (or our sponsors) anticipated. Performance is too slow or the data is suspect or we didn’t deliver exactly what users wanted. Or maybe, after years of disappointment, bungled communications, or cost overruns, the business simply doesn’t trust IT to do anything right.

If this describes your situation, it’s time for a quick win. You’re stuck in a perpetual negatively reinforcing loop and you need something dramatic—but quick and cheap—to get you and your team out of its rut. You need to do something that will bring a smile to their face and make them see you as an ally who can solve their problems. If your quick win succeeds, the business will shower you with money to fund more projects, including extensions to your data warehouse.

Of course, there is a catch. A quick win usually requires you to work outside of established platforms, processes, and procedures. While those things ensure that IT delivers stable, scalable solutions, they often impede quick action. A quick win often requires you to build something outside the existing architecture (especially if your existing data warehouse isn’t properly designed or supported.) As such, you need enough seniority or clout to bend the rules and make things happen.

This week I talked with a veteran BI director at a company who inherited a stalled data warehouse and a culture of distrust between business and IT. To gain credibility for the BI program and bridge the business-IT gulf, he sought a quick win. To scope his project, he met informally with business managers and executives to discuss their frustrations and needs. (As a former accountant he could “talk the talk” of business which helped immensely.) He learned that the company suffered from the “dueling spreadsheet” syndrome where executives from different departments couldn’t agree on basic sales numbers because they defined “product” differently. He got approval for a project that would track three “product” metrics through product development and launch. (Phase two will track product performance after launch.)

The project took six months from start to finish for approximately $75,000 (although this company doesn’t track costs for internally used resources. The solution enabled the company’s top executives for the first time to monitor a process that cut across departmental boundaries using standardized metrics. Needless to say, the solution was a big success and garnered the BI team much needed credibility. The caveat here is that he did not build the application on top of the existing data warehousing platform which has stringent change control processes which would have delayed deployment and increased costs. But with this quick win under his belt, the manager is now securing support and funding to overhaul the data warehouse. Eventually, he will retrofit the quick win application to run within the data warehousing environment.

The moral of the story is that a quick win can help build goodwill with the business and galvanize support that is needed to turn around a sagging data warehousing initiative. But to achieve a quick win, you often have to break the rules and work outside of standard architectures, processes, and procedures. If you are willing to take a risk, the rewards can be significant.

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on July 10, 2009


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