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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

The hardest part about implementing business intelligence (BI) solutions is managing change. Let's face it: we humans don't like change. Change can be terrifying if our livelihood, safety, or productivity is at risk. And even small changes can trip us up in subtle or subconscious ways, as I recently discovered.

Last weekend, I decided to clean and rearrange my home office to mark the commencement of a new job. I cleared all books from the shelves, removed all pictures from the walls, boxed up mementoes, got rid of a 1950s era steel file cabinet (who collects paper anymore?), and demolished a built-in closet to free up space.

Today, I sit happily in an echo chamber surrounded by four white walls (squash anyone?). All that remains before I redecorate is an easy chair, a printer on a table, and my desk on which are a lamp, an inbox, and a laptop. I feel like I can breathe again!

Change is good! Or maybe not....

Soon after I decluttered my office, I discovered the perils of change. One morning, as I was getting ready to leave for the airport at 5:00 a.m., I realized I could not find my wallet. When I searched all the usual places and came up empty, I began to panic: you can't get very far these days without a driver's license and a credit card. Honestly, the stress made me want to scream and punch a hole through the wall. Yikes!

With time running out, I grabbed my passport, my wife's credit card, and $200 in cash from my 18-year old son (an unforeseen benefit of having a teenager in the house) and jumped into a waiting limo. After a few minutes, I called my wife to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it. As we were talking, she walked into my office, and exclaimed, "Wayne, your wallet is sitting right on top of your desk!" Exactly where I always put it. How embarrassing!

I must have looked at my desk a dozen times that morning. Even though I had placed my wallet beside the lamp as always, I didn't see it! Somehow, the changes I made to my office and desk altered my perceptions. The missing wallet was hiding in plain sight!

The Stress of Change

When deploying new reports, dashboards, or BI tools, we need to remember that the smallest changes can disrupt the habits, schedules, and thought processes of the business users we are trying to support. They may lash out at us because they're feeling stress from the change we have induced. Even though we offer them a better way (e.g. faster, easier tools; more tailored, accurate reports, etc.), they don't want to change. They are temporarily irrational (insane); they don't want our solution no matter how good it is; they prefer the inferior option that is familiar and easy and doesn't interfere with their ability to get things done.

Thus, to succeed with business intelligence, we need to master the art of change management. Although implementing technology can be difficult, getting people to change the way they consume information and make decisions is even more challenging.

So what can we do?

Empathize. First, before introducing anything new, take a moment to empathize with the business users whose decision-making lives we are about to throw into disarray. Second, be ready for a backlash and remain professional. Remember that when people are angry, it's not them who are talking, it's their anxiety. They are afraid they won't make a critical deadline or won't be as successful as before.

Manage Expectations. We also need to address change management issues as part of our project plans. We need to manage expectations from the outset. That means communicating early and often about changes--before they happen, when they happen, and after they happen. We need to get top executives to trumpet the rationale or benefits of the change, if it's a major one. And we can devise different marketing and communications plans for each distinct group affected by the change.

Multi-touch Support. Once deployed, we need to offer rich, multi-channel support. Some people will need more hand-holding than others. For example, executives may need one-on-one attention, and we may have to duplicate the old environment (e.g., paper report, Excel interface) in the new environment to overcome resistance to change. We need to make sure we offer plenty of online help and that our help desks are ready to answer any questions.

Track Usage. Finally, we need to track usage. We need to estimate what the uptake and resistance will be. If it's higher or lower than expected, we need to find out what's happening. We can't be passive. We need to talk with our business users, ask them what they like and don't. If they are angry, giving them the opportunity to vent is part of the change management process. Some people will only change after a considerable amount of kicking and screaming. So don't short circuit the process!

In the end, we have to build bridges from the old environment to the new. Some people will race across the bridge, wondering why we waited so long. Most will cross the bridge in due time as good corporate citizens. And a few will holdout until the bitter end. We need to know who our holdouts might be and give them extra attention beforehand to quell their anxieties and fears.

Posted December 15, 2010 7:52 AM
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