A business intelligence (BI) project comprises tangible variables: budget, staff, selected software, hardware, and so forth. While each one has an impact on project success, my experience says success often depends as much on two intangible variables: project credibility and momentum.
Why is this? BI projects are dependent on business users. Call them data analysts or information consumers or knowledge workers, these are busy people with defined roles and responsibilities that are (let’s be honest) more important to them than your BI project.
What’s more, without early buy-in and adoption from users, BI projects lose credibility, which kills project momentum and ultimately the effectiveness and sustainability of your BI solution.
To deliver a successful BI project, it is imperative to capture user interest early on and stay engaged with them. Here are six simple yet critical success factors I rely on to build project credibility and momentum.
- Keep it simple – Regardless of your budget or staffing, you cannot satisfy each business functional area or requested deliverable within these areas. Best practice is to start with one functional area – Land, Drilling, Operations, Reserves, etc. – and identify one deliverable within the functional area that will provide a quick return on investment. A prompt turnaround guarantees a quick win. Apply any lessons learned to the next subject area.
- Make it easy to understand – Keep in mind the goal of your BI project is a satisfied business user. When designing your deliverable, use familiar nomenclature to ensure quicker adoption and an easy transition to self-service. Make sure the deliverable is user friendly, performance is good, and that you have resolved a clearly defined pain point.
- Involve functional experts – Your BI project requires business-side advocates. Look for future power users by identifying and working with functional experts early in the process. Further, involve them in the design, data reconciliation and testing of the deliverables. Remember that these business users are the ones manually creating data and reports that precipitated the BI project and can be your biggest champions going forward.
- Reconcile, again and again – The surest way to sabotage a BI project deliverable is to deliver incorrect data. Business users will only use the deliverable if they trust the numbers. You must reconcile data back to vetted source systems at each phase of the project to reassure users the data is consistent each time the deliverable is generated, regardless of date range, selected business unit, etc.
- Enlist executive involvement – Successful and properly funded BI projects require the support of executives. Executives can help you get things done, make decisions favorable to your cause, and allocate resources. Include them in the project from day one, even if only through email communication and status updates. Doing so will ensure their concerns are surfaced and addressed promptly, which will lead to continued support of this BI project as well as those in the future.
- Make user training a priority – Training should not be an afterthought in a BI project. It needs to be included as a deliverable in your project plan. And it must be ongoing: Users you trained six months ago may not have had need to use all the functionality during that period or their job role may have shifted. Refresher courses and consistent follow-up communication ensures that the training is relevant to the business user both today and tomorrow.
Perhaps more so than other IT development initiatives, BI projects can succeed or fail based on user-determined intangibles like credibility and momentum. Following these six lessons learned help ensure that you stay as mindful of the intangibles affecting project success as you are the tangible variables like budget and timeline.
About the Author
Charity Queret is a senior consultant at Stonebridge Consulting. Charity has over 20 years of experience in designing and developing end-to-end business intelligence and data warehousing solutions. Her data management expertise includes business intelligence services, such as Cognos and Crystal development, requirements gathering, data verification, data mapping and testing. She also provides documentation of existing systems, user manuals and training and BI roadmaps for future development.