As referred to in our article “Healthy appetite for Data or Reporting Obesity problem?” the availability of more and more (big) data is tempting many organisations into consuming far more of it than they actually need. This is manifesting in the generation of swathes of unnecessary reports, which are diverting staff attention to pointless tasks and wasting vast amounts of money, without any positive contribution to business impact.
In this article, we take a look at a practical three-step plan for developing a healthier relationship with data. One which will eliminate harmful indulgences and pave the way for tangible improvements.
Our three-step plan for healthy Data-Driven Leadership
To achieve lean reporting and steering which really helps focus on improvement, you need to pay attention to three key elements: management focus, data infrastructure and employee capabilities.
The starting point is making sure you only look at data from the perspective of the business decision you need it for. We call this outside-in thinking: basing everything around the customer’s needs. And all along the way, ensure your metrics are variance-based, showing details down to transactional level, not just average percentages. With these as your anchors, embark on the following three step journey.
- Management focus: build your Business Case
Does your company have a clear strategy and operating system in place? Or are managers allowed to manage their own pet projects. Without management focus on key metrics that are connected and cascaded throughout the organisation, data requests (and management questions in general) may appear in an ad-hoc and plentiful manner. These may divert attention, time and resources from obtaining strategic objectives.
To tackle this, start by establishing what you want and need to see as your key metrics. Map all the current reporting efforts, including frequency, time per report and labour cost per function. Then consider whether you really need all this reporting ‘as is’? When you take a good look into it, you may well discover that 25% of your workforce is carrying out reporting tasks that no one uses for actual business decisions.
Putting an end to this nonsense is the first saving you make. For the reports which are still considered necessary, rank these according to financial impact and business criticality and make an estimate of the costs for automating these (see step 2).
- Data infrastructure: build Report(s)
The amount of work involved in automatically generating your selected reports primarily depends on two things: how well you have defined your metrics as a business, and how mature your IT and Business Intelligence (BI) environment is.
We know this phase can be very hard work, especially if the definitions that link business and IT are ill-defined and/or IT support is distant, slow or both. But it is essential to get it right, which will involve hiring the right professionals to guide both the people/process side of things (metadata, business ownership, data governance) and the technical side of things (BI architecture questions; scalability; ease of use).
From our experience it’s important to ‘Think Big and Act Small’. You may eventually want to have all your KPIs available in, say, Microsoft Power BI, but start with just one. Prioritise: highest leverage metric first!
- Employee training: build Capabilities
Group 1: ‘super-users’
A select group of data-and-system-savvy specialists, go-to people for analytics, will act as the gate keepers to your actual data and business definitions. There can only be one definition of output or lead time and these people will essentially safeguard the quality of your management data. They will be the most extensive users and need to be properly trained, typically for a week, on the job.
Group 2: ‘report builders’
These are the people with skills to arrange and visualise business data in easy-to-use reports that get published and distributed to end users. They need basic training in setting up and maintaining reports with trends and customised metrics/ visuals. Two days training is normally sufficient, supplemented by experience gained when applying this knowledge in practice.
Group 3: ‘end-users’
This group includes the decision maker or makers for whom the report was built in the first place. Half a day’s training on how to use the (interactive) report for effective performance review is normally sufficient to get started.
Data-Driven Leadership is a lifestyle choice
It takes more than projects and automating of dashboards – ‘doing Digital Transformation’ – to achieve an ongoing healthy relationship with data which delivers real business impact. Utilising data to best effect requires Data-Driven Leadership, living data-driven processes day by day, with clear ownership and accountability properly assigned within the business. If you choose to embark on this journey to prevent or reverse Reporting Obesity and harvest value from data, these three steps should provide guidance for getting started.
Ad de Grauw is a Senior Business Process Excellence Consultant at R&G Global Consultants in The Netherlands