Tag Archives: interview

Catching up with David Axson

Performance Management professionals around the globe know David Axson. David is an exceptional consultant, public speaker and author. His bestselling book Best Practices in Planning and Performance Management can be found on most bookshelves. In the past year David has gotten a bit quiet. We were able to catch up the other day.

Christoph: In the past, you used to jet around the planet, write books, blog and speak at a ton of conferences. But you have gotten a bit quiet lately. Where have you been hiding the past year?

David Axson: Good question – I joined Accenture in June 2011 and obviously spent a few months getting settled in, however things are getting interesting again with the Accenture engine behind me I am now leading thought leadership efforts for our finance consulting team globally.  From a market standpoint I am spending a lot of time communicating with CFO’s of large global companies about the real power of analytics, big data and perhaps most importantly how finance can be a true value generator within the business. 

Christoph: In your last book The Management Mythbuster you take a humorous look at popular management practices such as lean management, six sigma and budgeting. Most of them have not lived up to the hype that once surrounded them. Are there new management fads that we need to be aware of today?

David Axson: Well at the moment it seems like the solution to every problem is cloud, big data, analytics and mobility. We need to move beyond the broad topics to get very specifc about how these mega-trends can be applied practically to drive growth and profitability.  We need to explain to a CEO, CFO, CMO or general manager what these trends mean to them and their organizations otherwise the hype will remain unfulfilled. 

Christoph: Speaking of management fads, how do you feel about Big Data? If we trust the opinion of some industry analysts, big data is likely to create millions of jobs while also fixing a ton of problems. Do I need to worry about big data? Can big data feed my family?

David Axson

David in action. Professionals love his workshops and keynote speeches

Christoph: Without a doubt, analytics is an important discipline for most companies. Today, have the ability to collect more data than ever before and we also have the tools to put that data to good work. Where do you see the real opportunity for companies today? How can they leverage analytics for their advantage?

David Axson: Focus, focus, focus.  I have moved beyond analytics to the notion of applied enterprise performance analytics whereby an analytics strategy looks at the impact analytics can have on specific business decisions such as market selection, product and service portfolio management, customer profitability, operational excellence and the like.

Christoph: Analytics is a relatively young discipline. It did not appear in the curriculums of universities and colleges in the past. What type of new skills do managers need today and what can they do to acquire them?

David Axson: Well analytics embraces a number of disciplines such as statistics, operations research, portfolio management and financial analysis.  They key now is how these skillsets get applied through the analytic tools that are now becoming available.  Managers need to understand how to translate the potential of analytics into reality.  One technique I use is to explain how analytics can be applied to drive positive impact on specific line items in the P&L and balance sheet.  

Christoph: When we speak about analytics, we also need to speak about technology. What is the most popular analytics tool today?

David Axson: Not sure it is that simple, it is about applying the right tools for the right job. IT needs to help the business match tools to tasks.  It’s a bit like doing a DIY job, you don’t just a hammer for everything.  

Christoph: You not only write books, but you also love to read them. What’s on your Kindle today?

David Axson: Just finished The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver – excellent read about statistics, analytics and forecasting in a real world context. 

Christoph: Can we expect another book from you in the future?

David Axson: Funny you should mention that.  Talking with my publisher about a new book focused on Enterprise Performance Analytics that takes a very pragmatic approach to applying analytics to decision making. Watch this space! 

Christoph: Thanks for the interview, David!

I had the pleasure to work with David for over five years and ended up delivering keynote speeches with him in over 20 countries. You can find out more about David on his Amazon.com page.

Success with Performance Management – An interview with Mark Lack from Mueller Inc.

The 80 year-old company Mueller Inc is a a leading manufacturer of pre-engineered metal buildings and metal roofing products. Mark Lack is responsible for performance management at Mueller Inc. He delivered a great presentation about their IBM Cognos implementation at  the recent IBM Vision 2012 event in Orlando. Following his session we sat down for a short interview.

Christoph Papenfuss: Mark, tell us about your role at Mueller Inc.

Mark Lack:  I was hired to manage the planning and forecasting function and as my role evolved Strategy Management and Business Analytics became a natural extension.

Christoph Papenfuss: Did Mueller already have established performance management processes when you joined the company. Can you provide examples?

Mark Lack: Yes, it was Excel based.  I can’t say it wasn’t sophisticated because it was.  Lots of automation and VBA scripts to manage the roll-ups.  The problem with the system was the inordinate amount of time it took to perform manual manipulations. Ultimately it rolled up to a series of financial performance items.  The process was long and complicated, and in the end we had difficulty matching the output with the actual drivers of the performance.

Christoph Papenfuss: Reporting and Analysis was difficult then. What about the planning and forecasting process? Did you encounter any difficulties?

Mark Lack: The budgets weren’t kept in our main ERP system, only in Excel. We had to manually type in 300 lines of actuals each quarter in order to run variance reports.  Invariably we would encounter that someone inserted a new line and it flowed through the rollup.  Forecasting was done by evaluating what could be done, backing it off 10% and seeing if that could get passed.  Often times when a number or a project was accepted, every other plan would magically look similar.

Christoph Papenfuss: You decided to implement new performance management processes. How did you go about that? Did you use a big bang or a phased approach?

Mark Lack

Mark Lack

Mark Lack:  We had just come off of an ERP implementation that was big bang, so we realized that this next project should be phased.  Actually, when working with PM, you have to be careful of what you incentivize (to avoid bad behaviors) so it lends itself to a more phased approach.  We began by implementing a corporate balanced scorecard.  This became the framework for which the organization’s activities would be managed around, so this became the parameters.  The scorecard reporting at first was done in Excel with Red yellow green traffic lights as the metrics success and failures.  The first question when we reviewed these was always “What caused the target to be off?”  We realized that we had to put a better system in place to manage and automate the PM if we were to be able to communicate what was important about executing our strategy and drive behavior.

Christoph Papenfuss: What does you current solution look like? What have you implemented and which processes are automated?

Mark Lack: We have an integrated system that uses the strategy as the foundation of our company.  All of our PM processes are integrated from the balanced scorecard, to reports that indicate why we met or missed a target, to a planning system to help us get back on track.  We try to allow the data to flow systematically with little to no intervention.  We’re pretty close to an entirely closed loop system and the told we have provide the ability to automate the dissemination of important information needed to run the organizations.  The goal is to get relevant information to decision makers when and how they need it.  We’re pretty close to that goal and automation of information delivery against our “big data” has helped us in this regard.

Christoph Papenfuss: One of the key problems companies are struggling with is target settings. Managers tend to fight for lower targets. Their argument is that their goals are arbitrary. Do you have similar issues?

Mark Lack:  We did for a while, and for the most part they have a point.  If the goal is 15 % and they are at 5% now, a 3 times jump can be difficult to obtain if looked at from a high level.  What we were able to do with our analytics tools was to analyze organizations around a common theme, such as revenue.  By breaking them into groups and analyzing the processes within the groups, the result in target setting is less arbitrary.  In our case if 7 organizations have a similar revenue level and 5 are performing at a high level in regards to customer satisfaction scores, all things being equal, the remaining 2 orgs should be as well.    So we set the target within the per group range as an expectation.  The top 5 in the peer group set the target and then the conversations switched from “That target is arbitrary” to “This was set by your peer’s performance”.  The idea here is that now we can remove the distraction of who set the target (now it is the peer group) to what are the best practices that drive this performance?  If 70% of your peers can perform, what keeps you from performing?  Ultimately it changes the conversation for the better.

Christoph Papenfuss: Implementing a solid performance management platform requires resources. What is the benefit for your organization? Have you ever attempted to calculate the ROI?

Mark Lack: We always knew the answer was positive, because you can see results, right?  The problem we always had was how do you quantify it?  We had a research study done by Nucleus Research and the direct benefits were 113% per year.  If we add the indirect benefits of a better informed workforce, I’m guessing it would have to be 10x that figure.

Christoph Papenfuss: What are your future plans?

Mark Lack:  I’d like quote Jeff Spicoli and say “me and Mick are going to wing on over to London and jam with the Stones” but I can’t.  There are too many opportunities to use the tools available to continue to maximize the value out of our system.

Christoph Papenfuss: Thanks much for your time, Mark

You can find out more about the Mueller Inc implementation on IBM’s website.

The power of analytics – lessons from a world-class coach

Christoph Papenfuss

Cycling is a tough sport

Cycling Power Meter

A few months ago, I wrote about my personal use of analytics to improve cycling performance. This post continues to be quite popular. There are indeed a lot of parallels between the use of analytics in sports and in business. So, I thought why not learn a few things from one of the leading experts in this area? Why not learn from somebody who is driving the use of analytics in sports? Why not listen to the person who has developed one of the first software packages for analyzing cycling and workout data?

Please meet Hunter Allen. He is widely known as one of the top experts in the world in coaching endurance athletes using power meters in combination with powerful analytical software. Hunter and I met almost six years ago. He hosted a cycling camp in Solvang, California. During those seven days out on the road, he taught me a lot about using analytics to improve my cycling performance. And I was lucky to catch Hunter over the phone the other day.

Christoph: You started your career in professional cycling. Professional cycling, like other sports, has a lot of old-fashioned traditions. What led you to take a fresh look at the traditional training methods?
Hunter: Actually one of my coaching clients asked me to train them with a power meter and I figured what the heck, I can do that! He was a VERY early adopter of the technology and that forced me to really learn it and figure out how to understand what it meant from a coaching, sports science and racing perspective.

Cycling Power Meter

High Tech in Sports - A Cycling Power Meter

Christoph: You advocate the use of high-tech training devices like power meters for cycling, GPS and accelerometers for running. These devices record a lot of data about each workout: heart-rate, power output, pace and cadence to just name a few. Why record so much data? Shouldn’t an experienced athlete know how to listen and react to his/ her body?
Hunter: We have to listen to our body, but sometimes our bodies don’t tell the truth or can’t give us enough information to help us make the right decision. For example, this past summer, I was training for the Masters Nationals races and I was in the last two weeks of the hardest part of the training. Normally my Heart Rate would be in the 170-174 range when I am riding at threshold power (equivalent to your highest avg. power you can maintain for an hour), but my cardiovascular system was quite fatigued and I could barely get my heart rate to come over 158bpm. However, my watts were higher than ever and I was doing more work than I had in a long time. Had I been going on heart rate, I would have rested and denied myself optimal training. The more data the better, because it allows us to organize it into useful information from which we can make correct training decisions.

Christoph: Back in 2002 you started developing a popular and sophisticated software package called WKO+ (Workout Plus). It allows athletes to upload the data from their power meters and running watches. What happens with the data in the software?
Hunter: Our Software is no more than a fairly sophisticated program that can take multiple ‘channels’ of data, organize it into charts and graphs which are presented in an easy to understand fashion. One of the keys to this is the ability to chart the data over any time period you want to chart it. So, I can tell if an athlete has improved in their sprint power over the last year, last six months, last month or even week to week. Data is useless until you can intelligently turn it into information and we’ve done that through a visual software package that allows the user incredible flexibility.

Christoph: Can you give us an example of what athletes can learn from the huge amount of data? Can even highly experienced athletes that really know their body well use these insights to their advantage?
Hunter: One of the greatest things that an athlete can learn is their own personal relationship between a ‘training dose’ and their bodies ‘response’ to that training load. Once they know that two weeks of training in the mountains and one week of rest will give them the fitness needed for a race, then they can begin to plan and predict a peak performance. This is the biggest revolution that we have been able to create: Peak performance prediction. If I have enough data from an athlete, I can plan their training nearly perfectly so that on the exact day or week that they want to have the best ride of their life, they will. That’s “powerful”! 😉

Christoph: Athletes often have to make critical decisions about their training schedules, their race tactics and their general behavior out on the road? Does the information provided by your software help athletes make better decisions? If yes, can you provide an example?
Hunter: For sure, this is something that can help them make decisions. Some of the best data is their race data. We can learn if they are pedaling too much for example! It seems counterintuitive, but the best, most winningest road racers often pedal the least in races. Cycling is a sport of energy conservation and the best racers save the most energy and then use it when they need it. Another example could be in a long solo ride, as a rider might use their power meter for pacing their energy output so that they can finish strong.

WKO+

Analytics in Cycling - Software provides critical insights

Christoph: Athletes often work as a team. The team includes coaches and other athletes. Does your software make a contribution towards better communication and collaboration between these different parties?
Hunter: One of the benefits of using these devices is the added sense of accountability that an athlete has, since they have been given a workout prescription and if they don’t do it, then when they upload their completed training file to me, then I’ll know exactly what they didn’t do. So, it helps the athlete with program adherence and the coach with communication. Without this information, I can only guess if the athlete is training correctly.

Christoph: We see more and more athletes train and race according to your methods. Would you say that training and racing with a power meter can lead to a competitive advantage?
Hunter: It’s a competitive advantage if you learn how to use it properly. Just sticking one of these on your bike isn’t going to make you a faster cyclist. You have to know some of the basic power training principles and then follow them. If you do that, then yes, absolutely it’s an advantage.

Christoph: The world of sports is often characterized by a culture of old traditions. Do you find it hard to promote these new training approaches?
Hunter: I don’t find it hard, because I am by nature a very flexible and open minded person. I am always open to new ideas, thoughts and approaches, but not everyone is. Any change takes time and here we are nine years after our first software version came out and still I am teaching new coaches, new athletes about it. I look forward to learning about the next tech tool that will help my athletes as well!

Thanks for your time, Hunter!

About Hunter Allen:

Hunter AllenHunter Allen’s goal has always been to teach athletes how to maximize their training and racing potential through professional analysis of their power data. Hunter’s power training method has built success at all levels of cycling and endurance sports, training such well known professional & Olympic athletes such as Jeremiah Bishop (Volkswagen-Trek), 2008 US National Champion Mountain Biker, Daniel Lloyd (CerveloTest Team), 2008 Vuelta de Extremadura, Sue Haywood, 2007 World Mountain Bike 24 Champion, Dan Fleeman (CerveloTest Team), 2008 Winner of Tour of Pyrnees and with the 2008 USA Olympic BMX Team. Hunter is himself a former professional cyclist for Team Navigators and has raced for over 17 years in Europe, South America, U.S. and Canada and has over 40 career victories to his credit. Considered a great all-rounder, he was able to learn a wide variety of race tactics and skill necessary to succeed at the professional level.