A simply awesome idea for your projects

“Make sure the teams get to know each other! It’s a lot easier to collaborate once you have had a drink together.” That was the ubiquitous advice from my former boss. We were discussing some communication problems related to a large international project. Some team members on a global project were running into some issues. Most people had never met each other. Communication suffered and it was starting to show in the results. Not a big surprise: Effective communication is vital for success and it is therefore always listed as a critical success factor. Interacting and working with people we do not know is especially difficult.

WHO ARE YOU?

Many projects bring people from different places or organizations together. And it is a challenge for project managers and sponsors to build teams around people that have just met. To start this process many people either resort to elaborate introduction rounds or sometimes even games. (I remember once putting my right hand on the shoulder of a colleague while looking him in his eyes for three straight minutes….it was an interesting experience and that’s about it) But a lot of these efforts fall short in expectations: we do not get to know the other person and we are utterly bored.

A SIMPLY SIMPLE BUT AWESOME IDEA

The other day, I attended one of those infamous project kick offs at the global headquarters of a successful German company. We were about 15 people from different parts of the world. To be honest, I was dreading the common introduction round (“Hello my name is Tom and I work out of the ABC office.”). But to my surprise, the project manager dimmed the lights and launched a series of short videos. Believe it or not, each and every one of the attendees had recorded a simple video about themselves, their offices and their colleagues. Within a few minutes we were taken on an interesting and fun journey through their Hong Kong, Sydney, Munich and Beijing offices. We got to learn about their teams, we saw their offices, we learned a few things about their lives. Most importantly, all of the videos revealed something about the personalities behind the people. And it worked: the atmosphere in the room was great and energized. And the videos stuck: Just this morning, I found myself thinking about some of them. I will never forget these great people and it almost feels like I have known them for a while.

TAKE OUT YOUR CAMERA

How do you like that idea? I will definitely try this next time I kick-off a project with different new faces. Remember: It doesn’t have to be fancy. Any camera or smartphone will do to record something decent. Show your new team mates your offices, tell them about your self. All this requires very little effort. Keep it short and sweet. Have fun with it! Get to know your team from a new and fresh angle. It’s these fun moments that can really help build teams. So, take out your camera now!

What Lego can teach us about implementing Business Analytics

Lego is amazing. Lego is a smart toy. It teaches us and our kids many things. Lego can especially teach us a fundamental insight that is true for many areas of our lives: We love doing those things that we are good at. And this is true for Business Analytics, too.

START SMALL

Success with a small project

Last year my twin boys wanted to build a fairly large space ship. They were really excited but that excitement ended up in a major disappointment: the project was too difficult for them. They lacked some critical skills. They made a bunch of mistakes and they soon lost patience due to a lack of visible progress. My wife and I tried coaching them. But we finally decided to shift their focus on a few smaller projects that they could finish in less than 10-15 minutes. They loved these projects. And they quickly learned new skills and they completed their objects faster and faster. As a result, the complexity of their projects rapidly increased and they got more and more creative. Today, they are able to build fairly large and complex sets and they need very little help from us. Most importantly, they love Legos as it gives them confidence and they are seeing personal success. When they tried conquering complexity too early, they easily got frustrated and Legos ended up not being their favorite toy for a while.

BIG BANG

Over the past few years, you and I have seen many companies fail with their software implementations. There was this infamous word Big Bang and it usually stood for failure. Companies decided to execute long and massive projects. The associated teams ran into plenty of dead-ends, they made mistakes, they had to compromise and they got really frustrated. Consulting cost often exploded. Business users were getting impatient and project teams decided to counter-act that with change management efforts. As a result, many companies literally hate the tools that they spent years implementing. Such a shame.

START SMALL AND GROW BIG

Experience allows us to successfully execute bigger and more complicated projects

When we get started with business analytics we should not attempt to do these large projects. It is just like with Legos: we have to develop new skills and we have to find out what works and what doesn’t. We also have to build the excitement. Small projects allow us to learn and to quickly collect success. The more we learn, the more confident we get. While we might need some consulting help in the beginning we can soon rely on our own skills. That significantly increases the motivation of all stakeholders. You will soon find that people are asking for projects instead of you promoting them. And before you know it you can apply the knowledge and skills to the bigger and more complex projects. And those projects will be successful. Isn’t that a better approach?

My advice to you: Think Lego. Start small and grow big.

 

Three ideas for better user requirements

Let’s face it. Way too many projects fail. And they often fail because of low user adoption. Users hate the new processes, they dislike the new report style, they are not sure how to best use the new planning software. Project managers claim that the users are not open to change. Sounds familiar? But when we look at it carefully, a lot of the issues boil down to how we gather user requirements.

THE PROBLEM WITH REQUIREMENTS GATHERING

In my very first job, a senior colleague invited me to join a critical requirements gathering session for an SAP implementation. He had prepared an intricate questionnaire (By the way, he called this process a ‘JAD session’ as in Joint Application Development). We met with the users and he rattled off a ton of detailed questions. I was impressed. The users weren’t. They struggled with a lot of the questions and my colleague left frustrated. His message to me was: “Users never know what they want. This is the most frustrating aspect of our business.” To make a long story short, the users ended up not liking what they received. When my team mate pointed at the signed off requirements document an angry user replied: “Sure, I signed off on this document but this is not what I had expected.” This type of situation happens everywhere. But what is causing this problem?

HORROR IN THE KITCHEN

A few years ago, we moved from San Francisco to Europe. We ended up renting a house that did not have a kitchen. No big deal, I thought, and went to the first kitchen store I could find. The friendly sales person started rattling off a ton questions: What type of stove do you want? Have you thought about the size of your fridge? How many liters of storage space do you need? It went on and on. I had no answers for this person. Strange. I love to cook, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. Yet, I was not able to provide satisfactory answers. And the sales person got frustrated with me. He suggested we take a break and reconvene after I had done some soul-searching. Sounds familiar? Any similarities to the standard requirements gathering process? Well, I aborted the process at that point and found another store that clearly knew how to help me.

A FEW IDEAS

Here are three ideas for making that requirements gathering session easier and to help drive user satisfaction:

  1. Business problems come first: The traditional requirements gathering process focuses on features and functions (which fields do you need in the report, how do you calculate this metric). There is a place for that, but let’s start focusing on what the users are actually trying to accomplish. Ask questions like: “What do you use this report for? What problems are you trying to solve with this? Has this been useful in the past?” We are in the business of solving business problems after all. So let’s focus on that. By asking those type of questions first we are able to make new connections and we are able to guide the discussion proactively. I went to another kitchen store and found a great sales person. He asked me a ton of questions around our family life-style, looked at pictures from the prior kitchen, etc.. He got the big picture. Also, I felt at ease. This person clearly showed an interest in helping me.
  2. Stop asking users for what they want and start showing them how the world could be: We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s that simple. Look at a user who has been using a certain set of paper-based two-dimensional reports: that person would not know how to articulate the requirements for a multi-dimensional online version (What is a dimension?). Instead, build a little prototype and show them how the world could be. Make it easy for people. The person at the new kitchen store did just that. After asking the high-level questions, he used a few models to explain to me what type of decisions I would have to make. He basically educated me. And that did wonders. All the feature and function questions from the other store suddenly made a lot more sense.
  3. Create and share: Don’t just stop there. Take the initial requirements, apply your knowledge and think ahead. Take the input from the general business problem discussion and create a prototype that includes useful things the user might not have articulated. You are the expert and you need to inject your expertise. Apple does that extremely well. Steve Jobs once said: “Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of wondering about what happened yesterday.” And this could be a highly rewarding exercise, because we get to apply our deep knowledge. Also, make sure to show the advanced prototype for early feedback. It is easier to visualize what could be when I actually see it. The guy at the second kitchen store did that. We configured a basic setup and he then applied his deep knowledge to surprise me with a really cool proposal.

THE NEXT PROJECT

Next time you head out to meet with users, try to remember some of these things. It can make a huge difference. I can tell you that my family is pretty happy with our kitchen. The combination of understanding how the world could be coupled with the deep knowledge and creativity from my coach (the sales guy), we ended up with a rather cool setup that continues to delight us. Why shouldn’t we be able to do this in business as well?

“When you fulfill dreams, success is inevitable.”,Carmine Gallo, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

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Business Analytics in action….a seriously cool workshop

BUSINESS ANALYTICS EXPERIENCE

Have you ever wondered what it was like to run a large company? Have you ever wanted to make big risky business decisions with worrying too much about the results? Well, I have some good news for you!

Purchasing and implementing enterprise software like IBM Cognos can be a complex undertaking. It starts with finding the right vendor, understanding how the software can help fix business issues and it continues with obtaining buy-in from the business. Especially the last issue is not trivial. I have personally spent countless of days and nights working with different client sponsors on crafting careful messages about how the new processes and the software will help the business. My personal lesson learned is: selling change is not easy.

THE EXPERIENCE FACTOR

But there is a recipe that works in many cases: Rather than show and tell, let the business experience the difference. This is something we can learn from a car salesman: A car salesman does not spend time talking about the benefits and cool features of a car. No, he offers a test drive. During this test drive, I am able to experience the benefits hands-on myself. I am able to visualize how the new car can help me. If I like the car, I like it. And I know when it feels right.

THE BUSINESS ANALYTICS EXPERIENCE

How does all that related to Business Analytics? Very simple: Together with Roland and Patrick Mosimann (authors of the popular book the Performance Manager) we created a business simulation workshop that allows you to run a fictitious company using the IBM Cognos platform. And let me tell you: This is one fun workshop because you get to run a large company. It is called: The Business Analytics Experience

THE CONCEPT

Future ChipsThe workshop is typically run with groups of 8-16 people. We split the participants into competing teams. The objective for each team is to run the fictitious company ‘Futurechips’. Together with the group facilitator, we start by analyzing the situation of the company. The Cognos 10 platform provides vital information such as a financial review, overview of products, markets, etc.. This helps answer some critical questions such as: Why was the prior management team let go? What is the financial situation? What are the opportunities for the new year?

ENTER THE SIMULATION

How is Futurechips performing?

There is a lot to discover. Futurechips seems to have a bright future but the prior management team made some strange and short-sighted decisions. And it is fun to make these discoveries. The teams therefore get fully emerged into the game after a few minutes. After a short while solutions and ideas spring up. The teams start discussing. And it doesn’t end here: We actually get to make some critical business decisions. What markets do we want to focus on? Which products do we want to invest in? How should we adjust our pricing models? What is our overall strategy for the fiscal year? We do this by developing short strategic plans in IBM Cognos 10. The data that we enter is then fed into a sophisticated simulation engine that provides detailed feedback.

THE COMPETITION HEATS UP

Business Analytics Experience WorkshopAt this point, it is not untypical to see some serious competitive behavior (all in good fun!) between the groups as we compare the results from the first few quarters. We find out that we did some things right. We also find that the teams missed a few points. Plans and strategies are refined. And so it continues. There are more decisions to be made and the simulation continues to provide feedback.

THE BENEFITS

Ok. That sounds good? But what does that have to do with Business Analytics and what does that have to do with selecting software and implementing it? Very easy. The workshop allows the participants to experience how Business Analytics software can help them make better business decisions. Just to be sure: we do not talk about the software itself during the workshop but we use Cognos 10 to perform our analysis, to prepare our decisions and to help develop the detailed plans. The participants use the Business Analytics tools to gain insights and to prepare their decisions.

WHO, WHAT, WHEN?

Who should attend the seminar? Anybody who wants to learn more about business analytics (sponsors, project managers, CIOs, CFOs, business managers) and all those of you who are already implementing the software and who need to sell change within their organization. The workshop is a fantastic way to let business users experience how their work can change. It is just like test driving a new car!

Does that sound interesting? It really is. I LOVE running these workshops. It is a simulation and a game after all. As a matter of fact, we have many returning customers that want to participate over and over again.

Check out IBM’s website for more information and a current schedule of events. Our team is also happy to run these business analytics workshops in-house. Hope to see you at one of these workshops soon!

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Manager

CAUTION

Please do not read this post if you are opposed to humor, irony and severe sarcasm.

THE BATTLE CRY

The other day I came across an article in Time magazine about Amy Chua. Even here in Europe we can’t ignore her infamous book “Battle hymn of the tiger mother”. No matter if you agree with her or not, we cannot deny that she has started a pretty heated debate about raising our kids. Just this week I came across various articles about her and had to listen to some radio shows discussing her methods. Even here in Europe. Having heard so much about this topic, Jen and I certainly had a quick discussion about our approach to parenting.

BUSINESS ANALYTICS AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Some of you probably attended the Gartner BI Summit in London. As every year, many people discussed the problem of user adoption and change management. Over the years, I have witnessed many different attempts to increase user adoption: town hall meetings, trainings, flyers, videos, candies etc.. Some methods are successful, other methods fail. It always depends on the organization and its culture. During a discussion with different delegates, somebody made the comment that users can sometimes be more difficult than kids. Hmm…that sparked an idea.

ENTER THE TIGER MANAGER

If you follow the discussions in the press, there is heated dispute whether Mrs. Chua’s methods work or not. But since many organizations are struggling with change management, how about trying Mrs. Chua’s methods? How about unleashing the Tiger Manager:

  • “Nothing is fun unless you are good at it”: Some users resist using business analytics tools. They prefer to stick to spreadsheets. That’s what they know and that’s what they enjoy doing. Could it be that they are not using the new software because they are not good at it? Would it make sense to force users to practice using the new tools? Rather than sending out a friendly invite to attend training, would it make sense to just lock them up? To make this as effective as possible, one should not allow anybody to drink, eat or sleep until the users get better at it. Bathroom breaks should be strictly forbidden during the critical learning stages.
  • “You are garbage.“: We should all strive for perfection and we all know that poor analysis can lead to poor business decisions. Yet, some users seem to feel that it’s ok to use the new software sporadically. They resort back to spreadsheets and they make mistakes. If we come across somebody like that, we should call that out openly. Instead of offering help, why don’t we openly call those users ‘garbage’. Adjectives like ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’, ‘useless’ or ‘repulsive’ could represent a decent choice as well. The public insult and ridicule will teach these users a critical lesson: ‘You better use the new software and you better get damn good at using it!’. PERIOD
  • “Sorry. No sleep overs”: Users spend a lot of time on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. They also spend time getting coffee or lunch. All these activities take time away from learning how to use business analytics software. Would it make sense to cut off access to social networks? Also, would it make sense to force the inexperienced users to forgo coffee & cigarettes during the early stages of their learning experience? Also, isolating those users that struggle the most could help? Find them a remote office or conference room? Social interaction is fine. But it should only happen in a highly controlled manner.
  • “I am going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them.”: Some users are weird. They complain, they refuse, they battle. In other words: they just don’t get it. Soft skills only go so far. For those particular users we should start threatening to take their office decoration away: their favorite coffee mugs, their stuffed animals, their stress balls, etc.. And don’t just stop there. Some users need more drastic measures: smash their coffee mug in front of them, spit on their awards, rip their stuffed animal apart. That will teach them a lesson. And remember: Life is hard after all. Life is a battlefield. This type of experience could help them excel in other areas of their job as well.

What do you think? Seems like a good list of things. Let’s all strive to produce the best end-users a company could ever have! Would love to hear about your experiences with this. Maybe we will be able to read about your experiences in the Wall Street Journal. I could envision something like “Why Tiger Managers are Superior“…….