July 19, 2012
Sometimes the hardest part about implementing a BI project — or any project — is just getting started
A few weeks ago I wrote about conversations I’ve been having with clients in the early stages of implementing a Business Intelligence strategy. The central ideas of that post were involve the end user; think big, but start small.
I went on to say that the BI implementations most likely to succeed involve “rolling something out and allowing users to get used to the concept of using data and metrics to drive their behavior.”
What followed was this seemingly innocent statement: “Not everyone will be a convert immediately, so watch for resistance and address it as part of your strategy… Push, but not too hard, or you will get resistance.”
And that’s when the fireworks started. Or to be precise, my somewhat nonchalant mention of possible resistance sparked some great comments and questions.
Readers said that some amount of resistance is inevitable, and they asked for advice handling two types of push-back they had witnessed in the early stages of strategic business initiatives. These are largely cultural/people issues, not in any way exclusive to BI implementations, but let’s go ahead and tackle them in the context of a BI project. Here they are:
- The Internal Obstructionist — This is the presence of a few highly-regarded and influential employees who either passively or actively undermine the changes in behavior that the new initiative requires. You know you have this problem if the water-cooler conversation sounds something like this: “That new BI program won’t work for us…”, “We’ve always done it this way…”, and “That new initiative will make us have to change.” (Basically anything eluding to “change is bad.”)
- The Dirty-Data Diversion — This is the belief that there’s no use starting a BI implementation until the company’s data is polished, scrubbed, cleaned, pressed and folded to perfection. It’s the same argument some use to avoid going to the gym: I gotta get in shape first!
I’ll address the Internal Obstructionist in a future post. Today, let’s grapple with #2.
The evil genius of the dirty-data roadblock is its apparent logic and deceptive concern for company well-being. In a BI context, artful proponents of this argument actually appear to have the best interests of the company in mind. We don’t want the C-suite making decisions based on bad data; that’s bad for all of us. Let’s get it cleaned up first.
Of course what’s really at work here is what Seth Godin calls the assertiveness of the lizard brain. AKA the resistance, AKA fear. No one wants the bright light pointed at his bad data or poor processes.
And since no data-scrubbing project has ever succeeded, there’s little risk in promising a thorough clean-up as a prelude to a BI kick-off. That’s the diversion. Confucius might say it like this: “If you think you need to finish before you can begin, you will never begin.”
Here’s how to overcome this type of resistance in three steps.
- Inject some honesty — Everyone knows there are data quality issues. Yes, even management knows. In fact, they’ve known for a long time. That’s not news. The point is to work together to improve the speed and decision-making ability of the enterprise, not place blame. This gives everyone who needs it some “cover,” and puts the lizard back in its cage.
- As soon as possible start reviewing some basic KPIs in the new BI system — Embrace the fact that the data isn’t where it needs to be. Make reliable data part of the project, not a prerequisite. Doing this will help everyone envision the desired future and it will set the stage for some quick wins. And quick wins will unleash the dynamic duo of momentum and optimism. The system should be viewed as a catalyst for operational improvement, not a tyrant that demands operational perfection to function.
- Meet often, especially in the beginning — In fact, consider daily meetings. More importantly, set overall priorities in a way that gives the team the time and the freedom they need to make progress between meetings. This helps reinforce everyone’s commitment to a successful outcome. In every meeting talk about how awesome life will be when the system is trusted and providing accurate information.
Nike got it right with its slogan “Just do it.” Starting has its own virtues.