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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 currently director of BI Leadership Research, an education and research service run by TechTarget that provides objective, vendor neutral content to business intelligence (BI) professionals worldwide. Wayne’s consulting company, BI Leader Consulting, provides strategic planning, architectural reviews, internal workshops, and long-term mentoring to both user and vendor organizations. For many years, Wayne served as director of education and research at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) where he oversaw the company’s content and training programs and chaired its BI Executive Summit. He can be reached by email at weckerson@techtarget.com.

Most business intelligence (BI) methodologies feature a circular workflow which might include the following steps: collect, integrate, report, analyze, decide, act. Unfortunately, these information technology (IT) centric workflows overlook the most important parts of the decision making process: collaborate and review.

Collaborate

Most people don't make decisions in a vacuum; they share ideas, options, and perspectives with others. Nor do they analyze data in a vacuum, at least anomalies or variances that require further attention. When people exchange ideas on a topic, they refine each other's knowledge, fill in missing gaps, and challenge assumptions. The result is a more comprehensive understanding of a situation and a better course of action.

Most of the time, people collaborate with peers in a live, two-way exchange of information. Today, this sharing typically occurs by telephone and in face-to-face meetings, or asynchronously via email. But fanned by the rising popularity of social media sites, like Facebook and LinkedIn, business software vendors are looking to bring online collaboration features to business organizations.

For example, BI vendors, such as Panorama, Lyza Software, Actuate, Tibco Spotfire, and Yellowfin, now embed annotations, discussions, shared workspaces and other collaboration features into their products. Other vendors sell general purpose collaboration platforms that serve as virtual water coolers and conference rooms where users can informally and formally share a wide range of information on almost any topic. Popular products here are Jive Software, which recently went public, SAP Streamwork, IBM Connection, and Microsoft Sharepoint.

By all accounts, 2012 will be a breakout year for business collaboration software. (To enhance our knowledge of collaboration and BI please take my current, five-minute survey HERE.)

Review

But collaboration alone is not enough to guarantee excellent decision outcomes. To do that, people must review their decisions and analyze how they could have done things better. Otherwise, they are doomed to repeat their mistakes. Success comes not just from working hard, but working smart. And that requires replaying past events and learning from them.

In the book, "How We Decide," author Jonah Lehrer tells the story of Bill Robertie, a world-class backgammon player (as well as chess and poker), who turned a childhood obsession into a lucrative career.

"Robertie didn't become a world champion just by playing a lot of backgammon. 'It's not the quantity of practice, it's the quality,' he says. According to Robertie, the most effective way to get better is to focus on your mistakes.... After Robertie plays a chess match, or a poker hand, or a backgammon game, he painstakingly reviews what happened. Every decision is critiqued and analyzed.... Even when he wins--and he almost always wins--he insists on searching for his errors, dissecting those decisions that could have been a little bit better. He knows that self-criticism is the secret to self-improvement, negative feedback is the best kind."

Interestingly, experts, like Robertie, after years spent learning from their mistakes, internalize this knowledge. This enables them to operate on a different plane of consciousness from non-experts. In the heat of action, their intuition takes over, and they simply "see" or "feel" what needs to be done. For example, Robertie said, "I knew I was getting good when I could just glance at a board and know what I should do. The game started to become very much a matter of aesthetics. My decisions increasingly depended on the look of things..."

Lehrer also describes how Tom Brady, the star quarterback for the New England Patriots football team, is able to make dozens of split-second decisions during a passing play. "Tom Brady spends hours watching game tape every week, critically looking at each of his passing decisions..." This weekly routine of self-criticism builds a literal body of knowledge that gives him an incredibly accurate "gut feel" when passing the ball during a game.

When asked to explain his abilities to make the right passing decisions, Brady says, "I don't know how I know where to pass. There are no firm rules. You just feel like you're going to the right place... And that's where I throw it."

Business teams, like individual experts, can build up a body of knowledge that enables them to make more accurate decisions, sometimes reflexively. But this only can happen if they assiduously study the impact of their decisions in a given area over a long period and strive to continuous improve.

Summary

To improve corporate decision making, individuals and teams not only need to collaborate, but they need to document and review each of their decisions. This will improve decision effectiveness and help build a true learning organization.

As BI professionals, we need to understand that our job is not done when we provide data to the business. We need to shepherd them along the entire analysis and decision making process. We need to embed collaboration into BI tools and link them to general purpose decision making platforms. In short, we not only need to be data experts, but decision experts as well.


Posted January 13, 2012 3:39 PM
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