Setting the Vision for Outstanding Success
Hello and welcome to this new blog post. Today we are going to talk about one of the most important ingredients of guaranteeing success of a Data Warehousing Project. Namely, setting the vision for Outstanding Success.
In the previous blog entry I talked about two very successful projects. Indeed, amazingly successful projects. On both these projects, and many others, I used a technique that I first learn from Metaphor Computer Systems. I incorporated it in to the Hitachi Data Hi-Star Warehousing Methodology. The techniques embedded in to it were used on many of my clients over the years.
In 2012 I pulled this then very old methodology out of mothballs and looked it over to see what might be leveraged out of it to create a whole new way of doing things now that we had SeETL and BI4ALL.
The old phases and project plans would not be directly transferable to today’s data warehousing projects given that we were 15 years down the track. But some portions of a data warehousing project are the same, some are very different.
One thing that has not changed very much are the questions that should be asked to set out the Vision for Outstanding Success. Though, to be fair, most companies are far more capable of articulating these things nowadays. You can often find the answer to many of these questions in presentations given to staff nowadays.
I can assure you that in the mid 90s very few companies had thought far enough in advance to write the answers to these sorts of questions down and communicate them widely.
The Art of the Interview
Far too many BI Consultants treat interviews like a Question and Answer session to tick off a list of questions. It is treated more like a job interview with a recent graduate than an interview with senior managers of massive companies.
Before I go in to this let me give you one example of the “Art of the Interview”.
Once upon a time I was doing interviews in the then largest stock broker in Australia. They had handled the Share Float for Telstra. A massive undertaking. This was a very important opportunity. My “assistant” was a great data warehouse designer but I had never taken him on such a set of interviews before. So in our training I told him
“No matter what you see, no matter what happens, you are to smile and look happy and you are absolutely not to say a word unless directly spoken to. And even then I might stop you from answering. You are not ready for this sort of thing and you do not know you are not ready. So will you do as I tell you?”
“You are the boss. Sure.”
As per my usual practice we interviewed the Managing Director first. These were not recorded and he could speak freely knowing that we all had “plausible deniability”.
As part of the conversation I asked him about an idea we used called “fact based decision making” rather than the “gut feel decision making”. His response, paraphrased was along the lines.
“You know, all us senior managers have desks around the trading floor so we can hear what is going on. We live, eat, breath this place. It’s in our blood. But I have to admit, you have a point. If I were to really be honest we make a lot of decisions based on “gut feel”. Sure, we dress it up as “intuition” or “experience” but at the end of the day, it is “gut feel”. I think that having a more fact based decision making process, where we have to produce various hard forecasts and then we have to have reviews to see how we went, I think that is a very good idea that our firm should seriously consider investigating.
The worst that could happen is that we find we are getting it right 90%+ of the time and the extra rigor did not make a big difference. That would be a small price to pay, because if we are not getting it right 90% of the time such rigor will show us where we are getting it wrong. And with the sort of money involved in our firm, that could be quite a lot of money. You have made your point on that one.”
Of course, there were other items discussed that are not repeated here. I just wanted to repeat this piece that the MD of the company felt that more rigor in the big decisions was well worth exploring with other members of the senior management team.
So we went on to the Chief Financial Officer. When we got to the same part of the interview the CFO BLEW HIS LID! He went into an absolute tirade calling me all sorts of names and challenging me on “How DARE you insinuate that any significant decision in this company is made on “gut feel” and not “fact based decision making”.”
I cruised through the interview not taking any real notice at all of the tirade since I knew it was coming. But when we got back to our desk I notices my “assistant” was visibly shaken. So we went to a conference room to talk about the experience.
“Wow. What was that all about. I have never seen anyone in business be so abusive and so angry towards anyone. Yet you seem to not be concerned at all? What is this all about?”
“Well, you were there when the MD said that they make decisions here much more on “gut feel” than might be wise going forward. You know that is what happens here. They do not have the computer systems to do otherwise.”
“Sure. That is what I am confused about. We KNOW what is happening here but the CFO just blew up at you for suggesting an improvement on what we KNOW is happening. But you didn’t argue back. You just went right on with the interview like he was still being pleasant and polite.”
“And that is why I told you to smile and never talk in these interviews. This was the CFO. These guys LOVE their numbers. To suggest to a CFO that any decision is taken in his company that is not 100% backed by the numbers is like waving a red flag to a bull. He knows what is happening around here but he is never going to admit it…and he is going to attack anyone who suggests decisions are based on anything less than 100% solid numbers. That’s his job.
They all do this. I have had that happen lots of times. You are here to learn. And one thing you need to learn is that CFOs are very hostile to the idea of “fact based decision making” as something new because they have to claim that is the only way decisions are made. When you do such an interview in the future? You will get the same reaction. And you just saw how to handle it, right?”
He just shook his head and hoped to be as good as I was at this one day! And he did get that good later on. He has been very successful in Data Warehousing in the 20 years since.
I wanted to tell that short story to let you know that interviewing people is, still, an art form, and it is not simply grabbing the list of questions from a methodology firing them at people like a machine gun and thinking that this will work. It is not like that.
I say that because I am about to list many, not all, of the questions that I use when establishing the Vision for Outstanding Success. I do not want people to “cut and paste” these questions and imagine that running around asking these questions is, in and of itself, a guarantee of success. Ok?
Interview Questions to Establish Vision for Outstanding Success
These are some of the questions for Executive level clients for setting the vision for Outstanding Success. I will explain the process after the sets of questions.
Q01. What issues do you have (in your own words) in obtaining information for decision making today?
Q02. What is the Vision Statement for your company?
Q03. What is the Vision Statement for your Business Unit?
Q04. What are the top priority business goals of your organisation in order to support your vision?
Q05. Are these the same for your business unit? If not, please define the specific goals of your business unit.
Q06. Do you have specific objectives relating to profit/sales growth, margins, customer service etc.?
Q07. How do you measure success in achieving those goals?
Q08. Are there specific financial measurements of success?
Q09. What are the key financial indicators?
Q10 Given your Business Unit’s Vision and Goals consider: what would ‘Outstanding Success’ look like?
Some suggestions are:
- Financial Performance
- Staff Performance
- Attrition Rates of Staff
- Retention rates of Customers
- Subsequent purchase patterns of customers
- Customer satisfaction surveys
Q11. What are the Critical Success Factors for your business unit to achieve its stated goals and deliver on the vision?
Q12. Which other business units within the company are most crucial to ensuring that your Critical Success Factors are achieved?
Q13. What role does each play in helping your business unit achieve goals and meet Critical Success Factors?
Q14. How do these business units co-operate and work together to help achieve success of your business unit?
Q15. What obstacles stand in your way of achieving these that may be addressed through Data Warehouse and Information Technology?
Q16. Please classify the Obstacles as ‘Internal’ or ‘External’ to the organisation
Q17. What action are you taking to overcome these obstacles?
Q18. In what ways do these obstacles affect your Business Unit?
Q19. Do they result in increased costs, reduced revenue, reduced customer satisfaction?
Q20. What will happen if you are not able to overcome these obstacles?
Q21. What would happen if you did overcome these obstacles?
Q22. What Key Numbers are required to make and/or support the decisions you make in the process of achieving your Vision, Goals and overcoming obstacles?
Q23. How do you obtain these numbers today?
Q24. What role does real world information about what is actually happening play in decisions that you and other managers make to run the business?
Q25. Assuming a Data Warehouse can be built which would help you overcome the obstacles preventing “Outstanding Success”, what financial impact would it have on:
For your business unit?
- Cost reductions
For the company as a whole
- Cost reductions
Q26. Where do you stand compared to your competition in the use of information technology to respond quickly to market conditions and assure the profitability of your company?
Q27. If you had access to information (including the Other Information just documented) what do you see as opportunities for ‘Outstanding Success’ and additional profit that are not being addressed today.
Q28. Without any of the existing restrictions, what information would have a significant impact on helping you meet your Vision and Goals and create ‘Outstanding Success’?
The Process of the Interview
As I have said above an interview is an art form. Care must be taken. A set of interview questions is a tool just like a saw is a tool for a carpenter. One of my uncles was a carpenter and he taught me that even though a saw is a great tool, it will still take your finger off if you to not use it properly. He taught me the importance of looking for innovative tools to get the job done better, faster, cheaper.
The way such an interview is approached is to first get all information that it is possible to get from already published documents so that you NEVER ask a question where you could have gotten the information easily any other way. Senior managers are never happy to repeat what the company has already put in writing unless there is a good reason for it.
Having gathered all information you could be reasonably expected to gather you make sure you put it in to the interview questionnaire so that the person you are interviewing can see that you went and did that for yourself. Do not leave those points blank on the interview sheets like you did not go do that for yourself.
When we got to question 10 I would give a short piece on “Outstanding Success” and how that worked. I would encourage the interview subject to put on his/her thinking cap and envision “Outstanding Success”. Then we would get to discuss:
Q10 Given your Business Unit’s Vision and Goals consider: what would ‘Outstanding Success’ look like?
Very often this would become the most vibrant and engaging portion of the interview. Very often the interviewee would get very excited and animated. The interviewee would often pull out proposals or plans that they had been working on and trying to get their mind around and walk me through them.
If you do it right, and you are engaging, when you get to the portion of the interview talking about “Outstanding Success” your interview subject will swamp you with what he/she sees as opportunities for “Outstanding Success”. My jobs used to be to capture all these ideas and get them down so that we could figure out what information was needed to track progress to achieving “Outstanding Success”.
The next part of the interviews was always the most difficult but in a way even more important.
The next part was to get the interviewee to tell you what the obstacles were for achieving this Vision of Outstanding Success that he/she had just been enthusing about. It is ever so easy to kill the interview at this point in time. The interviewee might become hostile, she/he might become resigned that he/she has tried to get the company to move forward with some of his/her ideas and not yet been successful. Going in to a negative frame of mind happens more often with less senior people I found.
But finding out what the obstacles are and where data might help get around those obstacles is just as important and getting the vision for Outstanding Success defined.
Why? Because any senior manager can give you a Vision for Outstanding Success. That is not the problem. It is execution that is the problem.
I am reminded by a comment I saw one famous Management Consultant make, I can’t remember which one. He wrote words to the effect.
“If I had 10 CEOS from fortune 500 companies in a room and I asked them to write down their vision, mission, goals and strategies for achieving these, and then I mixed them up and handed them back out randomly? Most would have trouble knowing if they got their own back or someone elses.
Why? Because most large companies are in business for the same reason and have the same vision, mission and goals, or very similar. And they have the same strategies to get where they want to go. Those are NOT the things that make the difference in a company. They are necessary and without them you will most likely fail. But they will not make the difference.
The difference is in execution….every, single time.”
I remember reading that in the mid 90s or so and thinking “this so matches this whole idea of Outstanding Success and then searching for the obstacles that are in the way and addressing the obstacles so as to make Outstanding Success more likely.”
And so it has. And it has stood my clients in good stead all these years.
Create the vision for “Outstanding Success”, make sure that all senior managers are well aligned on the vision they created for “Outstanding Success” and then search for all the obstacles that would get in the way.
With those two things in mind? We would gather data into the data warehouse that would assist us on the path to making a reality of the “Vision for Outstanding Success”.
In this blog entry I have talked about the process that I have used for “Setting the Vision for Outstanding Success” for many clients across a period of nearly 20 years now. I first used this idea on a real project in 1997. Before then we were selling it and talking about it but did not use it end to end on a project.
I talked about how the Interview is an Art Form and not something where you merely take a set of questions and fire them at senior managers like bullets out of a machine gun. I gave an example of how some people can be relied on to react very negatively to the sorts of interviews that I have conducted over the years.
I included some of the questions that I have put to senior managers over a period of more than 2 decades to find out how a data warehouse could make them more money in their business. Please note not ALL questions were copied to this blog post.
If you develop a technique such that the senior management team of your company define and agree on their “Vision for Outstanding Success” that has a two year timeline and you identify all the obstacles, both internal and external, to achieving that “Vision for Outstanding Success”? You have a very solid road map to go on to develop the data warehouse that will support treading the path to “Outstanding Success”.
Of course, in years gone past we had to select which data we were going to place into the data warehouse because the cost of the data warehouse was driven by the volume of data and the number of data fields. Indeed, by 1997 I was able to give fixed priced quotes for data warehouses based on:
- Number of operational systems.
- Number of files/tables.
- Number of fields.
- Volumes of the biggest tables.
As early as 1997 I could get within 10% of the actual cost for a project based on those numbers alone. As far as I am aware I was the only person in Australia who could do that in those days!
Today, with SeETL and BI4ALL we say “take everything in to the staging area”.
Why? Because the cost of disk/CPU is negligible. And with SeETL the cost of ETL to get data into the development staging area is also negligible. Once all data that MIGHT be useful is in the staging area is it much easier to decide what will go through.
On projects in recent years we have taken ALL data that is not purely operational data into the base layer of BI4ALL.
In the next blog post I will talk about how SeETL and BI4ALL now support the process of supporting the path to the “Vision for Outstanding Success” in a much better way than we were able to in the past, and usually in a much better way than anyone else does it today.
If you got this far? Thank you for reading and/or listening. I hope this was useful to you.