The time that you had to convince managers that data might be their biggest asset is long gone. Nowadays, every organisation understands that the smart use of data is essential if you want to survive in this ever-growing digital world. Data initiatives are mushrooming, and companies are eagerly exploring the possibilities of self-service analytics, data virtualisation and data science. But still, in practice, we see that many ideas fail before they’ve even started, get stranded during implementation or don’t provide the expected results. A recent report by McKinsey ‘The age of analytics, competing in a data-driven world’, concludes as follows: ‘Turning a world full of data into a data-driven world is an idea that many companies have found difficult to pull off in practice.’
Companies don’t lack conviction, ambition, ideas or enthusiasm, but, somehow, they struggle to turn data-driven performance from an idea into reality. Also, while many companies look for the solution in detailed analyses and the accompanying voluminous reports, we notice that the dilemma can, in fact, be resolved quite quickly. How quickly? In a three-hour meeting that we call the Data Vision Quest.
Where exactly is the problem?
Let us first look at where the problem mostly appears based on a few situations that we often encounter in practice:
|The ambition is there…||…but it becomes deadlocked|
|The management team says ‘we must work in a data-driven way’||Together, IT and business can’t convert these instructions into specific actions|
|Employees and external consumers need more and better information||Restrictions in the IT architecture keep them from receiving this information, or they receive it much too late, and they then go in search of various ad-hoc solutions, on their own|
|The organisation seeks external advice so that improvements can be implemented||An advisory report is presented, based on interviews employees, and this report is based specifically on the (traditional) internal views|
|The IT department sees various possibilities for eliminating existing technical barriers||They do not succeed in convincing departments of the advantages and to make the required investments|
|There are all kinds of ideas for implementing innovations in the data architecture||The IT calendar is filled with things that ‘must’ be done, leaving little room for innovation|
From incomprehension to a joint plan
Sound familiar? Then you might also see what these examples have in common. Where IT and business share the same aims, is also where they seem to become the most detached. The business does not see the added value of the initiatives that IT comes up with and IT has trouble figuring out and implementing user needs. It’s as if they speak different languages. Naturally, everyone wants to work on a 360° customer view, a flexible data marketplace or self-service BI. However, the lack of a clear vision and a joint plan that’s backed by allcauses initiatives to become stranded and leads to incomprehension or even undermining within projects. An open door? Even so, for years we’ve visited organisations that struggle with this because they don’t realise that the solution lies in the establishment of connections.
The good news is that we see that connections can almost always be established quickly based on the overarching ambitions. You won’t build these connections via long-term analyses and surveys, but by spending an afternoon, as a management team, working together on one common plan that is supported by all. A plan that sets out a joint vision of data’s role in your organisation and the translation thereof into specific, enforceable projects. A search for what is needed to bridge the gap between data and the user organisation, so that initiatives that go beyond the idea of one person or one department, are started. A Data Vision Quest, in other words…
Patrick Lencioni says it well in his best-seller, ‘Getting naked’: don’t waste time talking about what you could do, instead, just start doing it! This is exactly what happens during a Data Vision Quest: make decisions, eliminate long internal routes and eradicate mutual incomprehension. On top of all that, you’re also in for a wonderful, inspirational afternoon. It’s as if you’re in a pressure cooker where ambitions, ideas and insights melt into one plan without all the static.
The prerequisites for a successful Data Vision Quest? The formulation of a joint ambition, beforehand, and involvement from IT and the business. With input from at least three, preferably five people from multiple disciplines. Each participant must believe that the smart use of data can be very fruitful, must be prepared to contribute very actively and to challenge and be challenged. Preferably, the meeting will not take place in the office, but in an inspirational environment, away from the daily operations. If you do it correctly, you’ll have a clear programme for the coming years, after just one afternoon, and you’ll be able to start working out the first project plans, immediately. It’s as quick as that.
Dreams and ambitions
A Data Vision Quest consists of three components that are discussed actively and interactively. The first step — which managers always find very inspiring — is to share and discuss dreams and ambitions. This pertains to the organisational goals and to the participants’ personal ambitions. What is the degree of collectivity in the ambitions and how do the personal dreams tie in with them? Can you identify with the ambitions of others?
Apart from fruitful discussions, the first step eventually also leads to a joint vision of the most important ambitions in which data can play a role and identifies the underlying priorities of the ambitions. This makes it easier to identify the three to four most important ambitions and to fullfil them first.
From all perspectives
Now, the group can brainstorm together to figure out what’s needed to accomplish each ambition. To ensure that the discussion is not instantly (or solely) centred around technical solutions, the team also reflects on the four perspectives that play a role in the fulfilment of each ambition:
- Strategy & Information: how does this ambition tie in with the business strategy and which key performance indicators are used to measure the degree of success?
- Organisation & Process: which changes are needed in the organisation (in the organisational structure) if we want to accomplish this, and which processes must change?
- Culture & Users: how do we build a data-driven culture and which knowledge and skills do employees need for this to be successful?
- Tools & Architecture: which changes do we require for this in the IT landscape and what tools and resources must we invest in?
Project programm and business case
If you know what has to happen, you can combine activities into specific projects. You can identify the prerequisites and risks per project. Also, with an idea of the required investments, you can prepare an initial draft of your business case which will help you to promote the plans within the organisation.
The last – and perhaps the most important – step is to become committed. Do we all support the plan and who will take responsibility for which parts of the plan?
If you do it, do it well!
It might seem a little ambitious, to accomplish a well-considered plan that enjoys widespread support, in half a day. But, we see that it’s possible, time and again. It’s possible because everyone has shared the same ambition for a long time and it’s really ‘only’ a matter of finding the underlying connection so that specific steps can be developed based on the main perspectives. Doing this in an interactive, inspirational pressure cooker session, leads to the best results.
However, you will require the right people’s involvement. Managers that believe in a learning organisation, who are open to other opinions, and have the authoritative power to take steps. This is only possible with an experienced, objective facilitator, who allows for discussion but effectively works towards consensus. A facilitator who carefully monitors all steps in the process, but also keeps the momentum going. A facilitator who, as a liaison between IT and Business, can have a meaningful conversation with all parties.
Also, ensure proper auxiliary materials, with which you, as a team, can document all (interim) results, but which also serve as a lasting source of motivation for all the hard work that will follow. For the whole organisation. This way you’ll keep the inspiration and energy of the Data Vision Quest alive as long as possible!
Who in your organisation would you try to connect with, so you can achieve big things with data, together?