Mar 23, 2012

Build your Perfect Team with 'imperfect' members

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”  - Henry Ford

We all believe the greatest players make the best team and great peopke make great teams. However, that is not always a winning strategy.
Years ago when I was working as the regional sales manager meeting sales forecasts was most important. The various regional managers spent considerable time and effort teaming to learn sales, improve efficiencies, predict more accurately so production could be planned.. all typical improvement initiatives. Outside, the teaming room we also spent a lot of time competing against each other. Some of us teamed well and others not so well. Looking back I find a pattern – the successful managers were team players as they mostly met targets the unsuccessful ones resorted to processs that were not conforming to best business practices, such as giving heavier discounts to a customer in territory A if they bought in territory B.
In the BI world whenever we went to a new customer we would start with business meetings in a team environment. However, we soon found out that this never works. Power dynamics and seniority protocol mostly redirected conversation into single directions with the rest of the participants agreeing to the seniors statements. Today, in a business workshop we mandate breakout sessions with single employees and find the quality of data is almost 500 to 600 percent better.
In team and group decision we consistently find groups taking very erroneous decisions under the garb of a group, but actually directed by a single protocol member.
Looking at Gartner reports on BI this must be true as all BI decisions are group decisions and more than 50% reported decisions are totally wrong. If team decisions were always correct we would not be faced with a less than 50% return on most global BI installations.
Where did we go wrong?

Here is what we found. The answer is common sense but uncommon and difficult to install. But in each group we managed to implement this process- the results were exceptionally bright. Our research shows that to build a great BI team we need to do the following:-

Don’t just make statements, walk your talk

Most groups mandate an open door policy with total freedom to state concerns and alternatives. Yet in over 80% of the meetings we have attended it all starts with an air of open discussion until a senior person simple redirects it with stern protocol and at that time all discussions are closed. For example in a meeting just a week ago we were discussing EDW and the new FEDW options for a global BI initiative and it was taking a very healthy direction with most of the support coming from company employees. Suddenly the VP for Architecture angrily stated “I don’t see this argument going in any direction. Let me make a clear statement.. this is how I have planned …. framework”. End of group dynamics. The 4 hour meeting finished in 45 minutes. Group dynamics work on transparency and honesty to processes and standards. In group dynamics there must be no seniority but only stakeholders who come to a democratic agreement

 Don’t surround yourself with ‘Yea’ members

More than once the author has requested for some attendee and more than once the meeting owner has stated we don’t do this due to their having contradictory beliefs and concerns. The general aim of meetings could be to kill alternate opinions and concerns and replace it with a singularity of protocol instructions and compliance. Then place the single opinion as a group decision. For example, at a recent client that was having Sev1 (Severity 1 is when production BI goes down) on a daily basis a junior BI resource who had just joined the project stated ‘Sir, rather than get into Sev1 issues daily should we not conduct a BI healthcheck so we can replace this daily fire-fighting’ with ‘fire-prevention’. All conversations in the room stopped as everyone looked at the BI lead. The junior developer had stated something that was on the tip of my tongue and I was looking for the team to reward him. However, the CIO took an angry tone and stated that they had been managing the project for two years and did not want advice from fresher’s on how to run their complex environment. He then turned to the PM and asked her to talk to this ‘fresher’. An excellent recommendation squashed before it would be analyzed. The meeting continued as it did every day and six months later the ‘fresher’ has disappeared and the company still gets into daily Sev1 state.

A Yea from all participants doth not signify the best solution

Some of our greatest decision did not come out of the 1 hour meeting in which we closed a decision. Great ides require detailed discussions and value sharing between key stakeholders. Some can be completed in a single meeting, while others can take ten. The key is to define the goal and keep discussions open. In one of my prior lives the was closing a perfect sale. We had reached out to all the participants and convinced them to our point of view. When we presented it to the CEO he asked for all the participants opinion and when everyone said ‘Yes’ we assumed we had closed the sale. However the CEO rejected the proposal and asked his team to conduct more research. This time the meetings went on for over two weeks and when we came back we had 5 of the participants say yes , with 3 of them said the proposal was not right and one wanted to know more. The meeting continued for another 4 hours and we were sure it would be finally rejected. At the end the CIO thanked us for the proposal and then shook our hands and said we had the order. Later when the author asked the CEO why he had rejected the proposal the first time when he got 9 out of 9 yes. His answer still leads my process, “There are no perfect solutions on this planet. So when 9 out of 9 experts say yes they have not done their homework or have been influenced. We make the greatest aircraft equipment and perfection is desired but rarely attainable. So when we had 3 people who had found defects I was convinced they had done their homework this time..”

Get your COE and BI mentor

Most group members are under some type of influence or the other. As humans we are trained on efficiency, and this often results in following the advice and value drivers of our ‘advisors’. Quite often each of our advisors have their own value concepts that may not totally align with your Business Value Attainment goals. So build your COE. In a recent COE workshop we got our final confirmation from the CIO when she stated ‘I feel confident this will be a excellent COE, for I have seen quite a few that were designd to be Centers of Mediocrity”. Our advice is that a good COE is business and not technolocy owned and driven. It has business stakeholders, then IT stakeholders, then a BI Business Value Architect, a Business Value Owner and a group of experts, who are brought in to lead the discussions, in the area of discussion. So if you are reviewing whether to build a Federated or single Portal environment you would need a key decision form with pros-and cons of each alternative and an expert in that area who is from the company that provides the service. 
In addition to this it is important to understand that the CFO is a professional in finance and may not know enough about BI decisions to sign BI contract details, nor is your VP of procurement or your steering committee enabled to take this ownership. According to BI Valuenomics research in 2009-10 “over 50% of BI decisions are taken on wrong assumptions that do not provide any business value to the customer”. In order to mitigate this risk we recommend the installation of a BI Business Value Architect, i.e. and expert with undiluted business focus and experience, and exceptional solution and technical experience in the BI applications being deployed. The Business Value Owner and BI Business Value Architect own the ‘meet Business Expectations in BI’ components of each discussion

A group of perfect experts do not necessarily take perfect decisions

Place a group of generals and weapon manufacturers in a room and ask them if an attack is the solution to a conflict and we all know what the answer will be. Similarly place a group of expert lawyers in a room where a husband and wife are having a disagreement and we can all predict the outcome. Place a CFO and a bunch of junior managers in a room and we can fairly accurately predict who will call all the shots. So groups of experts do not necessarily take the right decisions. Recently the author was with a customer that needed to analyze extremely large amounts of data for critical support and maintenance programs. The closer the data was to real time the better they would be able to meet customer and business expectations. The author was called for a meeting and after understanding the requirement recommended SAP HANA as the only solution. The CIO stated that the author not make this public at that time as they had already had a meeting with their experts and chosen Teradata as their solution. Now the background is that 90% of their data was in SAP ECC applications, the data was in tens of billions of records and at that time HANA was their best alternative. However, as the experts had already taken the decision and actually already ordered the HW and team for deployment they were hoping my results would be the same as theirs. I was asked to bring this recommendation after two years as their current millions had already been allocated. The train had just left the station and the experts did not want to change their decision.


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