DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Month: February 2015

Don’t Go on a Date with Data, Marry It

There are a lot of companies out there today sitting on several types of data, with various levels of integration. For most, it’s a process involving multiple individuals to extract, transform, and develop that information into a useful dashboard or decision-support system given the company has legacy infrastructure and several different third party vendor platforms all producing useful information but it’s in own specific format.

The big challenge then, that companies face today, is how to tie all of this information together in a way that provides meaning but more importantly, provide it in a way that can be near real time with the ability to tie different types of data from all over the enterprise together.

Yes, you know how much you lost and earned in a given period of time, but can you determine why with the ability to stitch together different data sources? Can you do your own regression analysis, or perform correlation research to determine what trends might be causing a rise or decline in monthly revenues? Or do you have to hire it out, and wait several weeks, while analysts inside or outside your company work to produce the answer to that one simple question?

There are lots of people willing to charge you for the ability to do this month to month, on an ongoing basis, but if you’re content with having systems kept in disarray while you’re driving up the cost of labor to mine it every time you have a question about your numbers, then you’re simply dating your data.

You’re content leaving data at arm’s length, getting to know it to a point, but you’re not spending the time and effort it takes to really get to know the data inside your company and make the investment to make data a key part of your professional life. Marriage means accepting the ugly truth about someone, and acknowledging to them the same sometimes ugly truths as well, to build a close relationship.

Marrying data means you’re accepting the truth that legacy infrastructure, silo’ed data sets, and weeks spent building a single dashboard isn’t working for you and you’re ready to spend the time and effort it takes to bring data closer to the core of your business. It means making the investment to build an agile analytics platform that allows for ad-hoc analysis, and spending the time it takes to get your leadership team on board with understanding what a regression is and what level they feel comfortable being trained to help drive insights without an army of external analysts.

Marrying data also means accepting the things you can’t change about it, and learning to live with limitations as they are. It doesn’t make sense to send everyone to school to learn data science, but it does make sense to get up to speed on what it means and getting people trained in the vocabulary of data so that those highly trained resources can build what is needed and make sure everything you’re investing in has a clear return at the other end.

Making the ultimate commitment to data, vs having an off again on again relationship, means you’re wiling to spend the time it takes to make the upfront investment to clean up the silos and tie together the systems keeping your really valuable insights locked up. It means knowing that it’ll take time to see the value, but it’ll be worth the investment, vs continuing to grow your OpEx budget on consultants and FTEs working with what’s there now, and spending time sorting and tying each system together for one-off requests.

More importantly, marrying data means you’ve accepted that the key to a happy company is a happy data warehouse, and that Innovation in it’s most meaningful way means you’re able to draw out from your past what solutions and ideas might help fuel your future. By spending the time and effort to build meaningful data interconnectivity, along with the systems necessary to analyze and understand that data, you’ll be able to see what trends are coming your way and how you can be proactive to meet the challenges in an ever changing industry environment.

You’ll reduce the risk of being disruptive, you’ll be armed with answers before the questions get asked, and you’ll be able to walk hand in hand with your data into the sunset while every division within your company gets insights they need to better track what’s working and what isn’t along with driving new revenue streams to your customers.

A happy marriage for some seems like a fairy tale, and it’s not going to solve every problem you encounter. However, if you’re willing to put in the time it takes and accept that there’s things you could be doing to pay better attention to your data along with spending the time to care of it, your data will produce insights and become more open to analysis as a result which will always work better than keeping it in a chaotic state and spending time doing one-off reports.

So consider what marrying your company data looks like for you, and build a plan and a roadmap to make data more meaningful and acceptable for your company. I can guarantee you, your competitors are probably already doing the same.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book atAmazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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Peter Drucker and the Innovative Executive

Peter Drucker in 1967 published The Effective Executive which has become one of the most quoted and cited books on management of all time. It’s lessons have helped shaped managers of all levels, and continues to help inform business leaders around the world today.

What can we take from Mr. Drucker’s work, though, that could be applied to Innovation related initiatives to drive success inside your company and turn the overused concept into a meaningful concept that drives results and revenue?

“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?'”

When you’re thinking about ideas to spur growth inside your company, focus on what goals and targets the company needs vs what you think would be the most fun to work on. It’s important to love what you do, but if you are pitching a pet project vs something that will directly contribute to the revenue growth of the company, you’ll have a very hard time getting buy-in from both leadership and team members.

“Problem solving does not produce results. It prevents damage. Exploiting opportunities produces results.”

When thinking about ways to drive new Innovation initiatives in your company, look and see what the low hanging fruit looks like vs striving to come up with something completely new and original. Being innovative doesn’t mean it has to result in a completely new invention to solve a problem, sometimes it can be enrolling in a career rotation program to learn about what other teams are doing and bring best practices into your org or taking the boss up on going to lunch once a month to discuss what’s on their radar. The ideas will come, but it starts by looking for the right opportunities vs coming up with something on your own and forcing it’s way into the conversation.

“Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition.”

No matter what your idea or initiative looks like, it’ll take time – most likely your own until you get the right sponsorship. Be prepared to ask what’s at stake by proposing a new initiative or innovative idea, and make sure you’re committed to spending the time it takes to make it successful.

“The test of organization is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.”

For a company to be truly innovative, and disruptive it means that every member of the company is contributing in a way that trumps external competition in a way that competitors are continually scratching their heads wondering how to catch up. How can Innovative drive uncommon performance? If it’s an idea that only affects a small number of people in the company, consider how to expand that idea in a way that can either cause different groups to launch incubators or take a best practice or business process and make it something scalable and transferrable.

“To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.”

Being disruptive and Innovative is a four letter word in most organizations, because it’s easy to talk about those concepts and host a workshop on the issue because it’s become the “junk food” of corporate america. Whether it’s design-based thinking, or clear whiteboards with iPad-synced brainstorming technologies, everyone loves ideating and writing math symbols on glass surfaces but the fun ends when it’s time to go out and do something with all that brain power.

That effort requires a champion motivated to push base the barriers that stop risky innovative initiatives which often get killed by corporate immune systems, and push those initiatives into production because the company, and perhaps the world, needs these initiatives to come to light. Though I don’t think it requires conceit to motivate you into this space, it does require an almost unnatural dedication to making your company a better place.

Ideating is fun, Innovation workshops are fun, but really being Innovative and turning those ideas and workshops into meaningful and tangible outcomes is hard hard work. Figure out what where that motivation lives, and be prepared for the battles to come.

“If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration.”

You can’t fight a war on multiple fronts and win, and the same is true if you’re focused on too many initiatives at once. If you have a good idea you’re working to push through your company, put your effort behind that and concentrate on making it a winner. You can scale and delegate, depending on the size(s) of the objectives, but you can’t focus your attention on too many things or you’ll become less effective on driving all of them.

“Scientists have shown that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunity.”

This is so true when it comes to Innovation, as I mentioned before it’s not easy work and stopping after the fun stuff is why the word is so overused and underutilized. Have courage, be brave, read books on war and strategy, and go into driving Innovation knowing you’re fighting a good fight. If the idea goes south, failure in the moment is ok, but always learn from what you did and take those lessons forward. Driving Innovation spans many concepts and ideas over and over again, and is not just about one particular initiative. It takes time and several attempts to driving change in a company and make it really Innovative so take heart and make sure you have fox hole buddies to continually lean against when corporate politics get tough.

“Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught.”

This is the thing about Innovation that’s hardest to grasp, because people get jazzed about a mobile app or data pilot being associated as an “Innovative Initiative” then scoff when the pilot fails to take off. It can taken dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts to drive Innovation inside a company and after each failure you have to come back and examine “what could we have done differently?”. A company can’t lose enthusiasm for funding the process, and the team can’t lose heart if it takes several attempts to drive an idea into production, but it takes both a strong leadership mindset and effective teaming to get there. Effectiveness at driving disruptive ideas will come, but it takes a while to learn the methods to make it work inside a given company.

All quotes taken from Drucker, Peter F. The Effective Executive. New York: HarperBusiness Essentials, 2002. Print.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about him at http://www.danmaycock.com

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Drive Revenue Growth Without Driving Off the Road

Data – it’s something everyone is hearing about these days, whether it’s IBM stating how twitter can help you build better products to Google talking about self driving cars saving the environment through the power of data-driven route optimization.

That’s all well and good, but when you’re sitting at your desk looking at the list of things you have to accomplish today, and bring about new ways to grow revenues or build efficiencies into your business, where does one even begin?

No, you don’t always need a small army of data ninjas (though that can sometimes help) nor do you need a lot of high priced tools and solutions to help find buried gold in your troves of silo’ed business data.

To really drive to change, and begin leveraging your data to drive revenue it starts with the following steps

A) Start with the right hypothesis

If you don’t know what questions you’re trying to ask, then it’ll be very hard to find what you’re looking for that’ll help you achieve your business objectives. Asking questions like “where should I sell my goods” or “what products should I build” would require very expensive, intelligent systems capable of translating english into problems that computers could try and solve along with the tribal knowledge and understanding of the industry you’re in. Those systems exist, but man are they expensive along with the IBM consultants you’d need to hire to go between you and the outcomes.

Instead, focus on a specific question based on the types of data you know your business has. Start with things you think you know about your business, like what your key demographic is or where you source your raw materials from. Then go deeper and ask why those folks are your core demographics, or why you went to that one country for zinc. Good data mining starts with understanding the problem space better, and exploring things at a granular enough level that you can understand where intuition, guessing, or laziness came into place vs finding the right outcomes at the right level. You tell me you sell products in Seattle to women 44-55 years of age, I’ll ask what neighborhoods is that least or most true and if that answer is biasing you from growing your customer base because you’re focusing on metropolitan areas from a broad national study you paid a firm to do 5 years ago.

Sure, the same answer might be true, but having those metrics and answers in place means you’ll be able to see the shift and know when those answers are no longer the case, more importantly it’ll cause you to ask why the answers are they way they are and those levers or foundational factors will become more obvious and allow you to get granular enough to spot the outliers biasing your answers which get lost in the high level aggregated dashboards most execs use today.

B) Understand where your data lives

If you live and die by your profit and loss statements, or your quarter earnings reports, chances are that there is a complicated network of data analysts and administrators that compile all that information together to come out with a single answer. If you are getting your core business metrics from the same group you’re measuring against outcomes, be careful about unintentionally biased data that leans on rounding up vs rounding down and know where that data is coming from.

Too much data exists today, and decisions get made by people along the way on how that data is compiled and delivered, so build a culture of transparency and make sure you don’t have data points stacked on top of data points where errors can slowly creep in.

Aside from transparency, agile systems built the right way means you can do ad hoc reporting and build your own metrics with the ability to drill up and down without having to wait weeks for someone to compile a report on only the question you asked. Too much legacy infrastructure, and data scattered across the company along with an over reliance on key information being locked away in spreadsheets means a mess for really getting down to the bottom of things.

C) Figure out how the data is (or is not) related

If you’d like to see how twitter is affecting your supply chain, spend a little time thinking about how the two inter-relate. Twitter is going to be something tagged by date and location at a high level, but is a bunch of key words and a user name so prepare to invest in interpretive systems that aggregate and analyze or figure out ways twitter data might tie to a critical business system. There’s lots of ways to get at the answer, but high quality dashboards with pretty graphics may be just interesting and not at all useful if you don’t have the right data behind that tool giving you meaningful answers. It’s not about big data, it’s about meaningful data.

D) Ask an expert (whether or not you intent to hire one)

Data, like engineering or medicine, is a very complicated space that gets increasingly complicated by the day. Rather than becoming a data scientist yourself, find someone you know and trust that works with data and use them as a sounding board to run your ideas and suggestions by. It’s not that you may have a bad idea on how to leverage data to achieve business insights, but having it structured in the right way while learning what’s possible and what isn’t without a lot of investment is important to finding meaningful, bite sized ways to leverage data without breaking the budget and overspending for fancy whiz bang data systems.

E) Start small, grow big, track and measure along the way

The most important thing is to not bite off a big problem, like how do you end world hunger, but something small you know you could get good insights around relatively easily, such as where you spent what and how that goes against what you make with the ability to drill down into where that changes. If you typically get profit and loss statements saying you’re profitable in washington state, understand what city that is and is not the case and why one would be different than the other. Sometimes it’s just getting more granular data to what you already receive that can have the biggest insights into your day to day business.

At the end of the day, data isn’t a silver bullet, but it can make a difference in a big way when approached the right way. Start small, build a meaningful hypothesis, and strap in for the revenue growth that will follow.

Daniel Maycock is the Director of Strategy and Analytics at Transform, a data services
company. Our mission is to help drive impactful outcomes with data for our clients. We do this by providing tailored solutions that help people get tangible applications from their information.

His new book, Building The Expo, was published in January, 2015.

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Are You Suffering from Corporate Arthritis?

I recently spoke to a friend of mine who works for a large corporation. He works for an IT group who’s been tasked to help turn around a struggling business unit, as a meaningful exercise around technology- driven Innovation and cross-functional collaboration to produce efficiencies within the business unit and help drive new revenues that the executive sponsor could promote as a meaningful contribution that IT made to the business.

The problems he had were the following

A) There were no clear examples around how to drive effective change, outside of design-based firms focused on product development or strictly focused on ideation and creative exercises in a workshop style format. The word “Innovation” itself got a bunch of eye rolls, and he’s relatively low on the totem pole. He felt the word had no place in what he was trying to do, and was more of a marketing term the sponsor put on the project vs focusing on the meaningful outcomes he knew he needed to hit.

B) There was no indication the problem was even possible to solve, as the team was traditionally tasked with just keeping the IT services maintained and not staffed or tasked with people that are entrepreneurial nor had the training or experience driving large scale change with minimal budget or authority, as this fell under “pet project” status within his larger IT org.

C) Apathy and Resignation, his team was visibility depressed and down trodden after years and years of politics and a lack of clear direction in the face of all the reasons why change isn’t possible. Those in the roles to help drive change had too much apathy to overcome, in order to make the initiative successful and others resigned themselves to the status quo armed with all the reasons why change would be both difficult and unlikely to succeed. Others still, had built careers on learning the rules and reasons why things should stay the way they are so any mention of risk or change brought about 100’s of roadblocks and line by line on why even minor changes not done in just the right way would be unsustainable

The thing is that any corporation this size is going to have these issues, no matter who you are or what you do. Eventually change becomes more difficult, and making the things happen you know should become harder and harder to do. Let’s call it Corporate Arthritis, where risky and adventurous moves become more painful the older and larger the company gets.

Yet, he had a mission and felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. Many people I know face this cross road at some point in their career, and either quit to start their own company, tired of how hard it is to make a difference in a big company, or stay there and accept defeat with very few navigating the corporate sphere to make something meaningful occur at a broad cross-functional level.

In my own career, I’ve never seen change come easy. It took getting up every day, and knowing I’d get spit at (metaphorically) and face a lot of people disbelieving what I was saying was possible, and no clear path or permission to make a difference. Sometimes I failed to get traction, and when I did it always cost me something. Yet, some battles are worth fighting so you can help make a dent in the war corporations have to stay agile and responsive to the market place.

Based on what I saw work at other companies, with employees like my friend facing similar odds, I proposed he try the following tactics to help combat the corporate arthritis he was dealing with.

A) Focus on the outcome and not the technology / means

Executives at any level typically have ten or so objectives they have to hit for the year that are tied to a hard number or measurement typically. Few if any are going to care about the specific means to drive that success, but care instead about hitting those numbers. If you go in talking about mobile devices vs revenue growth or efficiency, you’ll have a much harder time convincing a business unit on the other side of the company to take you seriously.

Instead, focus on what is meaningful to that other function and stage what you’re talking about in terms they care about. Sounds simple, but is often missed when it comes to cross-functional collaboration. It may be hard to tie what your group does to the value proposition of a team on the other side of your company, but having that “rosetta stone” starts with informational interviews and discussing with people in a semi informal way what makes them tick. Understand your audience, and treat your team like a start-up. If the customer doesn’t buy their product, it’s not their fault – it’s yours.

B) Re-consider what victory looked like and build a tangible story to support it.

All because the executive handed down a hard number and states you should hit that, there’s wiggle room there because they don’t care about the number but instead the bigger story around what that number represents. If an automotive car company says “we need to sell 1,000,000 new trucks”, it could be that they felt selling a million new trucks was the best way to hit a revenue target. Could there be another way to hit that revenue number though, by selling 750,000 trucks with different promotional campaigns than the ones the executives had in mind when they ran the numbers?

It doesn’t hurt to understand what KPIs or metrics you’ve been handed represent, and have a discussion around other ways you could try and achieve that. At the end of the day, if you feel like you’re being set up to fail then don’t play the victim card. Instead, understand what they’re really going after and find a tangible way to be successful while hitting the target.

C) Grow a thick skin

Change is hard and driving new revenue growth doesn’t come without challenges in any company. You have rules, regulations, and middle managers that will fight you tooth and nail either to protect their turf, or project some level of jadedness on you. The unfortunate thing is that those individuals may feel like they’re helping you by throwing up resistance, or not even realize what they’re doing is a negative thing. Or perhaps, they just don’t like you for whatever reason. I was once on a conference call sharing a new initiative with a number of executives in the room and several folks from the IT group I worked for on the phone, when all off a sudden someone on the phone started saying “yea, Dan Maycock is talking, this guy is totally full of #$(*, yea I know….yea, I agree, who does he think he is?”.

Everyone in the room went silent, and the moderator fumbled to get that individual on the phone as he obviously didn’t know he was unmuted. I quickly had to shake it off, and kept going. I never found out what that person had against me, but it didn’t matter. Sometimes making the biggest changes causes the biggest problems, but the corporate immune system is a very real thing and will fight change and risk in many different forms. The key is to keep pushing to drive that revenue or efficiency despite that.

C) It’s all about the (right) data.

The big thing these days is data, and information and the power to look at tons of data and build a meaningful story. However, there is a ton of useless and meaningless data out there as well, and not ever byte of data out there is useful. Having the right data means knowing ahead of time what story you want the data to tell, and ensure you’re spending the right amount of time understanding data mining and how building a solid hypothesis works. Having a little useful data is far more meaningful than having tons of meaningless data, and you don’t need to be a data scientist to construct a regression model or find correlations in the data you have in front of you. It just takes a little time educating yourself on how the right data can help you build an objective business case for those less likely to follow your lead.

At the end of the day, he knew he’d have to head back into the fray and work to rally the troops and build a solid plan of attack. Every employee and executive fights a battle with the corporate immune system when it comes to doing things differently, but it’s a battle worth fighting. Real change never comes easy, and making sure to say I didn’t have a silver bullet, there’s certainly ways to fight the battle smarter and “win the battle before you fight” as Sun Tzu would say. There’s no book or system that’s guaranteed to work, but having the encouragement and support of people outside your situation, providing insights to combat your tunnel vision and help you rise from the jadedness and apathy can go a long way in helping turn best practices into meaningful outcomes. You won’t always win the battles, but eventually you’ll start to make a real difference in the war and that, people inside and outside the company will begin to take note of and it’ll become easier over time because you’ll have the reputation and trust of folks higher up the ladder helping drive changes more effectively (plus the experience that comes from being a battle hardened office warrior).

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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