Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Second Most Important Question in the World

There’s a lot to be said for business intelligence practitioners being responsive and being able to deliver to and meet the needs of their clients quickly and much has been written about the benefits of BI teams partnering with their business colleagues in order to provide the best outcomes and value.

But doing so shouldn’t just be interpreted as giving business users everything they ask for as fast as humanly possible. Across my career I’ve found one simple two word question very powerful. That question is: “so what?”

The value of asking "so what" comes partly from asking the “how will you use this data?”, “what decisions will it inform?”  type questions, but it is even more powerful when turned around. Ask the question: “If I didn't have that data available to me - so what?" If the answer is something along the lines of: “I wouldn't know that we had a preventable problem and in 5 minutes there'd be raw sewage running down the main street” then it's worth doing something about. Write that report, enable those analytics – and do it quickly. However, if the answer sounds more like: “I might need that extra piece of information one day”, then perhaps let's wait for one day to come before we spend the effort, time and money.

In today's climate funding and resourcing are not what they once were in BI. There are few open cheque books left and those of us managing the function have to work with other leaders in our organisations to prioritise. Not only does working on low value things demoralise the members of the BI team, it's also an opportunity cost to the organisation. Working on a low value or low impact requests means that something else, something that may have enabled a better decision, led to time saved, a lower cost to serve or a customer prevented from churning was pushed aside and missed.

The “so what?” question is a powerful one. Just be careful how you ask it, and never presume to know the answer or to be able to second-guess your business colleagues!

And, as to the matter of the [first] most important question in the world. Having just spent two weeks travelling long distances on planes and in cars whilst on holiday with my kids I can assure you that the most important question in the world is “ARE WE THERE YET?”

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