Why Analytics Projects will Keep Failing without Fixing the People Problem

During a Visualization Roadmap session I presented at Reporting and Analytics 2014 my first statement was:

“The process of getting your organization to think and analyze information visually has little to do with technology!  Technology however should help accelerate the process.”

To build a successful analytics culture it requires an emphasis on people, not technology. With hundreds of flavors of the same visualizations tools available in the BI market, technology is no longer a barrier. Communication is the most important factor for success any initiative or project, but your emotional intelligence, intellect, and ability to think like an “intrepreneur” are what will set you apart. Even with a rock star technology team, Big Data tools, and the latest Tableau visualizations on hand, you still need the people who will ultimately consume this information to be on board every step of the way. Knowing “what” to do is great, but knowing “why” is what will get you promoted.

IMG_0535Industry analysts still stress that BI projects fail because tools are too complicated and data is not readily available or accurate. This feedback is obviously resulting from surveys and interviews but if you dig deeper, these problematic BI initiatives still struggle because of people issues:

  • How performance should be measured
  • Poor expectations setting
  • Not enough attention or support from leaders
  • Wrong or sub-par training and skill sets on hand
  • Cultural or personality clash
  • Poor leadership

Driving a culture where people think visually is not about a faster way to create bar charts. After carefully walking through the “people” aspect of driving a visualization roadmap, I asked the attendees (60/40 mix of business and IT professionals) to collaborate in micro round table discussions focused on technology. First, they took turns painting a perfect picture of what the optimal technology mix would look like. Immediately after they went through the self admitting process stating their organization’s current deficiencies. Sure enough, discussions evolved from technology to “people and process” and the body language quickly changed watching from the front of the room.

Someone asked me after the presentation how they could invoke change within their organization; how to get their business stakeholders to think more visually.  Step 1 is admittance of  the “people problem”, and step two is having the right leadership in place to help create and sell a roadmap to invoke change. The catalyst for change can be a low hanging fruit opportunity to improve one area or one specific problem in your organization, and build from there… I am simplifying something that is actually VERY difficult of course but driving a visual, analytics driven enterprise is no easy task!

Bottom line, buying technology to solve people and process problems is not the answer…

The most successful organizations that you read about have the right people, process, and support systems in place to thrive. It is my firm belief that analytics success stories should not be an outlier but rather a norm. Reading the body language of these amazing professionals who joined me last week, I know we are far from where we all want to be as an ecosystem. This kind of change is extremely hard, but if you are successful in moving the needle it can be career changing if you are behind the wheel.

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