Big Data, Great! Now What Do We Do With It?

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Take three groups of people. Have each of them assemble the exact same jigsaw puzzle.

  • The first group with the puzzle pieces face down
  • The second group with the puzzle pieces face up
  • The third group with the puzzle pieces face up, and with a copy of the puzzle box lid

Which group is going to be happier, faster, the most productive?
The group with the puzzle box lid!

Why does the puzzle box lid help make people happier, faster, more productive?

Because the puzzle box lid allows them to all share the same picture. The same picture of how what they are working on, fits together. When people share the same image of how it all fits together, it is much easier for them to work in unison toward a shared goal.

Why don’t we do this with Big Data in business? Why don’t we put all of the data together, into the flow of the business? So that people can see: given the flow of business, where they fit, how they link up and how they affect the whole. Why haven’t we already been doing this for decades?

Part of the reason is that business schools teach business in functional silos. A marketing silo. A finance silo. An operations silo. And while business silos are great, for the efficiencies they bring, you can’t get those efficiencies any other way, business does cut across silos to get actual work done. So for goodness sake, wouldn’t it be useful to show people how business flows across the silos to get reality based work done?

In the absence of knowing how Big Data, fits together. How Big Data fits into the flow of business. People resort to displaying data in dis-integrated ways. Ways that at times seem disjointed and confusing. Sometimes the data is shared as a list of key performance indicators (KPIs). Leaving everyone reading the list to determine on their own, how all the metrics fit together. Or the data is shared as a dashboard of gages. The dashboard often doesn’t give you a sense as to how all of these things fit together. Or as a business scorecard.

The challenge with presenting data in this less than integrated way, is that your team is left to wonder:
“Is this number supposed to be 5 times higher than this other number?”
“How do these two numbers relate to each other?”
“And how do those two numbers fit together with all the other numbers?”
“How do our jobs fit together to best drive the business with these metrics?”
“Wait a minute, how are we supposed to prioritize all of this?!?!”

So then, how do we better leverage the data? How do we make our people, happier, faster, more productive? How do we build our “puzzle box lid”?

To intuitively derive the solution more easily, it is useful to think about the similarities between all the business data it is possible to collect, and Seurat’s oil painting of a Sunday afternoon in the a park.

Seurat painted in dots. He painted in “data points”. When you stand with your nose an inch away from Seurat’s painting, all you see is a bunch of dots. It is only when you take a step back, that you see the patterns that the dots make. A river. A women with a parasol. And for some reason, a little monkey. This is what data is. A series of dots. However if you put the dots together and take a step back, you can see the business patterns the dots make.

I discovered how to put the business dots into a useful pattern, when working with a CEO a number of years ago. During a conversation he said, “How do you think we should best grow the company”. Having thought about this for a while, I quickly gave him a number of ideas. He paused and thought about it and then said, “What I really need to do, is figure out how to best invest in the company.” When I quickly went to modify my recommendations, it occurred to me that the question of “how to best grow” is very different than “how to best invest”.

How this framework was derived and its many uses, are subjects that take up more room than will practically fit into this article. If you would like more details and examples please see the book “Business Strategy Mapping – The power of knowing how it all fits together”.

In the shortened version of what transpired, when I sat down to provide the answer “how to best invest in the company” it was necessary to first understand how business flows from potential to profitability and the points in between. Profitability for both the customer and the company. Because if one of them doesn’t “win”, neither wins. Because one will walk away from the other.

This general flow is helpful. It allows us to see the overall flow of the business. But how do we fit the data into the flow? How do we fit data into the flow so we can see the patterns made by the data. The patterns that tell us incredibly useful things. Thing about the flow of the business. Where we are doing well and where the opportunities are. How to prioritize putting effort into optimizing the flow. How to best invest in the flow, in the business. Which people are going to need to be involved, in which pieces of, which portions of the flow.

After working on this for years, the fundamental pattern below appeared. The pattern of how a business, business units, products and projects, flow from potential to profitability and the points in between. When you populate the flow below, with your objectives, the initiatives that support the objectives, and the metrics that come from the initiatives, you get a wonderfully rich picture as to how the business flows.

Years ago I was working with a data architect named Chris.
Over lunch he told me . . .

“Ken, right now we do thousands of reports. We probably only need to do hundreds of reports. This is because we are treated like punch press operators. Like order takers. We get a request for a report. We generate the report. Then we deliver the report. Using your business strategy mapping framework, we can deliver not only what senior management is asking for in a report, but what it is they really need.”

Later he told me . . .

“Because we sit over the top all of the data, we are the ones closest to it, all we needed to do is apply a thin veneer of how the business flows, over the top of it all. We now know how it all fits together. We are now going from order takers to intellectual leaders. We are now even being brought into projects earlier, because we know how the data fits together.”

People have said that this should be taught in business schools. To show students how all of their classes fit together. It should actually be taught in high schools. So that high schools students have a better idea as to how: objectives, marketing, finance, operations and customers all fit together. It is not that hard. It fits on a restaurant placemat and is suitable for coloring.

Please share this with others. We need to all get to better places more quickly. And let me know if you have any questions. As a business geek, I love this stuff.

#marketing, #finance, #operations, #customers, #objectives, #BigData, #Data, #BusinessStrategyMapping, #PuzzleBoxLid

Also, we need to make things better more quickly. Here are 6 conversations that can help:

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