Sep 27, 2012

How to Fail Your Way to BI Success

“Insanity”, according to Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

In Feb 2012  Gartner reported that more than 70% of BI projects will fail in the 2012-14 period. this is alarming to say the least, and it is time to get concerned and review the path we are all walking on. It is time to check whether you are rushing on a path of insanity, or willing to stop for a while and get your bearings straight.

Decisions taken in a state of fear are reported to consistently choose higher risks and lead to an almost certain failure.

The biggest difference between you and Picasso, or Einstein, or whoever your heroes are that they spent lots of time in whatever they did. They spent more time in front of a canvas, or guitar, or computer, working away at applying their minds and souls to specific things. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’, patterns only form when someone has done similar tasks for 1,000 hours, which in his score equals to 1. I have spent over 30,000 hours in BI projects ranging from Oracle, Teradata, Informix and SAP BI (97%) so this paper comes with an outlier score of 3. Looking back it is the failed BI projects, which I was assigned to, that taught me more than the ones that were successful. In one project we scored 102% user satisfaction based on the 'BI Valuenomics principles. Looking at the last six years close to 70% of the projects I was assigned to were projects either going, or gone, due south. In aircraft terminology I would term it as a nose dive.

Here is the standard question I have adked the CIO, BI managers and technical leads from the client,

Me: So, how was/ is your BI project?

..and the answers I have received over the last few years.

[1] Our BI project was an  IT success, and a total business failure; (scored 102% after applying SP (Scientific Principles of BI)
[2] Our System Integrator is working on a fixed bid project. They were supposed to finish in January, now its June so it’s their problem; (cancelled the project in July, will commence to fix with same SI)
[3] We are 6 weeks from go live, and right now if we get 40% of the reports we expect then I will be more than happy; (customer trying find they way out of this mess)
[4] We are in a Severity 1 status two to three times a day so I don’t have time to answer your question; etc (customer continues on this path till date)
[5] My users have stopped using out BI totally and gone back to the legacy reports. I want you to bring the user confidence in our BI back (scored 98% after applying SP)

In one recent BI Project, where I found a basic naming conventions missing, when we asked the customer if they had a BI –Center of Excellence they responded a strong 'Yes'. Taken aback I took a little deeper dive and found that their SI was calling their offshore support staff COE – and even had the customer executives convinced that they indeed had an operational COE. So wat their COE did was daily load checks and low cost developments in BI across the planet.

One thing all these respondents were missing is that it is possible not to fail in BI projects today. But then you have to choose this path.  Most BI projects fail because the client does not even try. Both clients and SI’s seem to get entangled into an endless spiral downwards where(a) initially the euphoria of utopian promises, which is followed by (b) the fear of failure, which together overturns all conventional logic- as both continue to proceed speeding down the path of failure at full speed.
Today with a sound global methodology and documented scientific principles we can keep delivering world class BI projects but somehow the choice, made by 70% of respondents,  is a consistent path of failure. If this statement were wrong 70% of BI projects would not be speeding towards imminent failure even as we read this paper. If your BI is sick then stop all activities, which I know seems almost impossible to imagine, but if you are heading for an accident then the best advice is to stop hard. Now, that you have stopped you need to conduct a serious Strategic Health-check from a trusted and qualified BI Business Value Architect. If you somehow choose not-to then you shall once again have chosen to continue on your predictable path to failure. The solutions, though rarified, are written on the wall, but one has to take time document and read it.

More often than not, the fear of failure is so haunting that most of us continue to do what we have been doing, hoping that somehow the future will change. That, we have now clearly established,  is walking right into the Einstein’s lunacy definition.

So what is the solution:
Briefly, the first step should be to try and never get your BI initiative on any path to failure. However, once you think that your BI is on a path to failure – the first step is to accept it. Then proceed to write down on a piece of paper ‘I will now face my fears and take the following steps to achieve (and fill in these blanks) in 3 months. In each step there must be a quantifiable goal that mitigates attribute of the fear of failure). If you cannot get a mentor with solid business background and BI experience to match- high business focus. I call them 'BI Business Value Architects'

Step one:

• Step two:

• Step three:

Now sit back and imagine your life three months from now when you have managed to achieve your goals and actually achieved finding a remedial path and suddenly there is a light at the end of the tunnel. (Feels good, right?) So what's stopping you?

The two greatest reasons for BI failures are [1] Assumption and [2] Fear of Failure

Assumptions that your partner is going to provide you all the solutions, that if you involve business in your BI project they will cause unnecessary delays and increase costs,  that the BI project can chug speed full-speed-ahead without any formal documented methodology- i.e. a ‘Global BI Cookbook’, etc.. This is like a Ready-Fire-Aim kind of a BI project.

Fear of failure is the second biggest obstacles to success and we all have to battle it. What separates success from failure is the ability to accept the fear, find out if you are qualified to find the solution and then applying a scientific method out of the mess with consensus of all key stakeholders. The failures prefer to manage in the state of crisis, I’ve met a few that seem to thrive on the daily adrenalin of multiple Sev 1 issues on a daily basis sometime for months on an end. Sev 1 issues should not happen more than a few times a year. Other continues on their current path hoping things will somehow change- which they rarely do.

It is critical to realize that the failure of a BI project is the failure of the enterprise, of its capability to make decisions (till it is fixed) and least of all of the SI.

Often I have sat in ‘Lessons learned’ meetings and have found that people who are afraid of failure treat them as mistakes. Mistakes are not failures. Mistakes are actually your path to success, but only if you avoid them the next time. Mistakes look like failure but are actually solutions in disguise. True failure is not recognizing failure in a timely manner, continuing on a path of failure without changing any of the variables, or blaming someone else for the failure. True failure is quitting. Everything else is a path of learning.

If humans never made mistakes evolution and development would stop. In pharmaceutical and R&D mistakes is the path to success. As Bernard Shaw had stated “Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I’ll show you a fool”. Anyone who tries will make mistakes and I have made my honest share. However, we must also learn from mistakes. It is ill advised to make the same mistake again and continuously over time and space. In almost every sport it is advisable to firstly go beyond the ‘pain point’ and then go to the edge of failure. This is done to establish a breaking point. The best then take this breaking point further and further and succeed where no person has before. Gold medals are not won by athletes who work within constraints not ones who continue to make the same mistakes.

Great players will focus on the times they have failed to remind themselves not to add to that number. Lesser athletes will focus on the times they have won and try very hard to forget the ones they lost. In my life I have learned a hundred times more in failed projects, and my BI Valuenomics book is all the lessons learned from failure- as the scientific principle of all management established in 1897 that by eliminating all failure points our only option is success.

The Silicon Valley is full of the 10th time. i.e. 1 out of 10 ideas will succeed. The ones who succeed wither have uncanny luck or persistence, the ones who never make the same mistake twice and work as a team. The valley is also full of inventory who have held on to their ideas, not sharing, not teaming and they are left standing where they were 5 to 10 years ago.

Successful people look at points of failures, learn from it, establish some form of rule to avoid it the next time and succeed. Failures for them are opportunities to learn. In life one can either lead or follow, but fearful leaders try to do both at the same time and at the most critical moments it is the fear of failure that totally paralyzes their thinking. Henry Ford quoted: "Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."

So with a failure rate of 70% start with accepting that the probability of failure in your BI initiative is 70%. Recognize that 70% of the BI projects in the known universe will continue to fail all around you (unless you firmly believe that Gartner is a junk company with analyst smoke all kinds of weeds in strange bars and do not know what they write).

Your ‘advisors’ are going to bombard you only with what to do and how they have done it in other customers. However you need to start reading Gartner reports more carefully, speaking to fellow customers on what they did wrong. Follow this through and hire yourself a reputable ‘BI Business Value Architect’ and learn what not to do from them. Train your business stakeholders and arm them with checklists of failure and success criteria’s.

To be ultra successful you have to be able to find your failure points in your mind, find them often and predictably, and then avoid these pitfalls. If unable to do so accurately find yourself a reliable advisor who you can trust to enhance your business deliverables and not just deploy still another BI appliance.

1. Accept Failure is a high possibility in BI (currently at 70% failure rate)
2. Develop and get hold of BI Checklists by each phase
3. Anticipate and avoid failures. When failure happens welcome it and learn from it
4. Apply only scientific principle in BI, not because they are handed to you as such but because they are.

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