Leading for Success with your Business Intelligence Initiative: Part 5

In my previous post Leading for Success with your Business Intelligence Initiative: Part 4,

I discussed the value of having a clearly defined communication plan and executing on the plan. Today, I would like to discuss additional critical C's for success.

The C's in Success

1. Clear and Compelling Vision

Creating a clearly defined vision of the future that serves to inspire and motivate the BI team is an important step in paving the road to success. The vision statement should assert what the organization can be at its best. To be effective, the vision statement should be vivid, something one can describe, so that people can picture it in their minds and then make the connection to how their individual contributions can support realization of the vision. The statement itself should be concise, motivating, and memorable.

2. C-level Sustained Support

The second key principle in paving the way to success is to sustain support "from the top. Sustaining support for enterprise initiatives requires organizations to develop and maintain sponsors or "protectors." For an enterprise BI initiative, the BI team must develop the overall BI plan; the BI plan must then be advocated and "sold" to the rest of the stakeholders. All of the members of the BI team must develop and maintain effective working relationships with the key stakeholders.

3. Coordinated Control

The third key principle in paving the way to success is exercising strong leadership. It requires the BI team leader to:

  • Identify and develop other BI leaders and technical staff within the organization;
  • Define clear lines of authority and demand accountability;
  • Implement sound project management practices and Demonstrate uncompromising standards.

(a) Develop key team leaders and technical staff. The first step in building the BI team is to assemble a staff with the experience and expertise needed to meet the goals and objectives of the program. In my experience, these individuals need to have a comprehensive understanding of: (a) how decisions are made; (b) data sources; and (c) information (measures and metrics) used in their local environment.

(b) Define clear lines of authority and accountability. My experience has taught me that the more successful BI initiatives require responsibility and decision-making authority be allocated down to the lowest level possible, consistent with the individual's capabilities, but with the leader maintaining ultimate accountability. The objective is to clearly define each team member's responsibilities and deliverables within the organization, then provide them with the opportunity to succeed or fail in executing those responsibilities. This makes the organization more agile in making decisions and executing technical tasks and frees the senior managers to focus on the initiative's major issues and problems, which are typically political in nature. Leadership is all about showing the way and working with people along the way. Effective leaders realize that everyone has a unique personality and needs to be dealt with respectfully and on a one-to-one basis.

(c) Implement sound project management. An important activity of an effective team leader is the establishment of close control of schedules and budgets. This is of particular importance on your initial BI initiative. To allow for this control requires the leader to conduct regularly scheduled reviews. I suggest developing a standardized review schedule which features a series of program review milestones that serve as "go – no go" and "coordination" gates through which the key milestones must pass on the path to accomplishing the mission. It is also essential that during these reviews all BI stakeholders must be present themselves and not just represented. The conduct of these reviews provides an excellent opportunity for executing your open communication plan as discussed in my previous post. For example, a strong leader fosters open, honest communication, including bringing in bad news, without retribution against the messenger.

4. Continuous Expectation Management

The fourth key principle in paving the way to success is controlling expectations. This is a critical component of any BI initiative. In my experience, you can improve your chances of success by employing a continuous and evolving expectation-management process that is complemented by an agile development approach using rapid prototyping. The key advantage of rapid prototyping is avoiding the development of the wrong solution which is one of the leading factors for why BI initiatives do not succeed.

In short, the BI leader and BI project team must early on create a tangible picture of the finished deliverables in the minds of everyone involved so that all effort is focused in the same direction and on the same deliverables. You need to avoid vague descriptions at all costs; spell it out, picture it, prototype it, and make sure everyone agrees to it.

It simply costs too many resources and risks too much time spent in rework to just jump in with both feet and begin building all project deliverables when the initial requirements may be vague. Build a little at a time, obtain incremental reviews and approvals, maintain open communication, provide regular progress reports and maintain a controlled evolution.

In the next post we'll explore the E's to your BI development teams' success.