Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Strategies for Creating a High-Performance BI Team

Wayne Eckerson writes a good blog in The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI)'s website, where he publishes posts about BI issues. Recently, he published two great posts regarding to create high-performance BI Team, entitled Strategies for Creating a High-Performance BI Team and Attracting and Retaining Top BI Professionals. In my opinion, create and maintain a high-performance BI Team is one of the most important steps to develop a successful BI initiative.

In the article Strategies for Creating a High-Performance BI Team, he defined seven guidelines that can help to create a high-performance BI team that delivers outstanding value to your organization:

1. Recruit the best people. The companies shouldn’t hire people just because they know a specific tool or programming language or have previous experience managing a specific task, such as quality assurance. If you need specialists like that, it’s better to outsource such positions to a low-cost provider on a short-term contractual basis. Although you should demand certain level of technical competency and know-how, you ultimately want people who fundamentally believe that BI can have a transformative effect on the business and possess the business acumen and technical capabilities to make that happen.

2. Create multi-disciplinary teams. The key to remaining nimble and agile as your BI team grows is to recreate the small, multi-disciplinary teams from your early stage BI initiative. Assign three to five people responsibility for delivering an entire BI solution from source to report. Train them in agile development techniques so they work iteratively with the business to deliver solutions quickly. With multiple, multidisciplinary teams, you may need to reset the architecture once in awhile to align what teams are building on the ground, but this tradeoff is worth it. Multi-disciplinary teams work collaboratively and quickly to find optimal solutions to critical problems, such as whether to code rules in a report, the data model, or the ETL layer. They also provide staff more leadership opportunities and avenues for learning new skills and development techniques.

3. Establish BI Governance. Once a BI team has achieved some quick wins, it needs to recruit the business to run the BI program while it assumes a supportive role. The key indicator of the health of a BI program is the degree to which the business assumes responsibility for its long-term success. Such commitment is expressed in a formal BI governance program.

Most BI governance programs consist of two steering committees that meet regularly to manage the BI initiative. An executive steering committee comprised of BI sponsors from multiple departments meets quarterly to review the BI roadmap, prioritize projects, and secure funding. Second, a working committee comprised of business analysts (i.e., subject matter experts who are intensive consumers of data) meets weekly or monthly to define the BI roadmap, hash out DW definitions and subject areas, suggest enhancements, and select products. The job of the BI team is to support the two BI governance committees in a reciprocal, trusting relationship.

4. Find Purple People. The key to making BI governance programs work is recruiting people who can straddle the worlds of business and information technology (IT). These people are neither blue (i.e., business) nor red (i.e., IT) but a combination of both. These so-called purple people can speak both the language of business and data, making them perfect intermediaries between the two groups. Astute BI directors are always looking for potential purple people to recruit to their teams. Purple people often hail from the business side where they’ve served as a business analyst or a lieutenant to a BI sponsor.

5. Aspire to Becoming a Solutions Provider. The best BI teams aren’t content simply to provision data. BI directors know that if the business is to reap the full value of the BI resource, their teams have to get involved in delivering BI solutions.

High-performance BI teams work with each department to build a set of standard interactive reports or dashboards that meet 60% to 80% of the needs of casual users in the department. They then train and support each department’s “Super Users” -- tech-savvy business users or business analysts--to use self-service BI tools to create ad hoc reports on behalf of the casual users in the department, meeting the remaining 20% to 40% of their information requirements.

6. Give Your BI Team a Name. A name is a powerful thing that communicates meaning and influences perception. Most business people don’t know what business intelligence or analytics is (or may have faulty notions or ideas that don’t conform with the mission of your team.) So spend time considering appropriate names that clearly communicate what your group does and why it’s important to the business.

7. Position BI within an Information Management Department. The BI team should be organized within a larger information management (IM) department that is separate from IT and reports directly to the CIO or COO. The IM department is responsible for all information-driven applications that support the business. These may include: data warehousing, business intelligence, performance management, advanced analytics, spatial analytics, customer management, and master data management.

Attracting and Retaining Top BI Professionals

In the article Attracting and Retaining Top BI Professionals, he wrote that to create high-performance BI teams, we need to attract the right people, and there are a couple of ways to do this: Skills Versus Qualities, and Performance-based Hiring.

Skills Versus Qualities

Inner Drive. First, don’t just hire people to fill technical slots. Yes, you should demand a certain level of technical competence. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t hire technical specialists whose skills may become obsolete tomorrow if your environment changes. Hire people who have inner drive and can reinvent themselves on a regular basis to meet the future challenges your team will face. If you need pure technical specialists, consider outsourcing or contracting people to fill these roles.

Think Big. To attract the right people, it’s important to set ambitious goals. A big vision and stretch targets will attract ambitious people who seek new challenges and opportunities and discourage risk-adverse folks who simply want a “job” and a company to “take care” of them. One way to think big is to run the BI group like a business. Create mission, vision, and values statements for your team and make sure they align with the strategic objectives of your organization. Put people in leadership positions, delegate decision making, and hold them accountable for results.

Performance-based Hiring

Proactive Job Descriptions. We spend a lot of time measuring performance after we hire people, but we need to inject performance measures into the hiring process itself. To do this, write proactive job descriptions that contain a mission statement, a series of measurable outcomes, and the requisite skills and experience needed to achieve the outcomes. If done right, a proactive job description helps prospective team members know exactly what they are getting into. They know specific goals they have to achieve and when they have to achieve them. A proactive job description helps them evaluate honestly whether they have what it takes to do the job.

Where are they? So where do you find these self-actuated people? For example, you can find on online forums, such as TDWI's LinkedIn group, and on Twitter. You can assess the quality of advice they offer.

Retaining the Right People

Finally, to retain your high-performance team, you need to understand what makes BI professionals tick. Salary is always a key factor, but not the most important one. BI professionals want new challenges and opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills. One way to retain valuable team members is to create small teams responsible for delivering complete solutions. This gives team members exposure to all technologies and skills needed to meet business needs and also gives them ample face time with the business folks who use the solution. BI professionals are more motivated when they understand how their activities contribute to the organization’s overall success. Another retention technique is to give people opportunities to exercise their leadership skills. For instance, assign your rising stars to lead small, multidisciplinary teams where they define the strategy, execute the plans, and report their progress to the team as a whole.

Wayne Eckerson defined very well in which their articles the way to create a High-Performance BI Team. Certainly companies that create their BI teams following those guidelines will have a great chance of developing a successful BI program.

Wayne Eckerson is the author of the book Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (I wrote a book review on this book)

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