Friday, August 24, 2012

So you have achieved success, what is next?

After a long time, the BI project that you were leading is finally in production; to everybody’s surprise (including yours) things are working perfectly and customers are actually using the system. All the hard work seems to have paid off after all, with your boss congratulating you on how the project was deployed and the fact there were no priority one issues during the roll-out. In short, you have achieved success, you are no longer afraid of being part of the failed BI project statistics. After a week or so of babysitting the new system you start to wonder what is next? You start to realize that you have been so single mindedly driven to deliver the program that you have given little thought to what you will do after delivering. Many options start popping on your mind: should you take vacation, should you ask for afternoons off to play more golf, should you go to your boss and ask for a new project when you know that nothing in the pipeline is as good or as interesting as the project you were just on. Maybe you should leave the organization and find a company that has an even more challenging project where you can contribute immediately? With so many options, what is the right thing to do? What option will provide you the most happiness, what option will help you the most in your professional career?

If the situation above is familiar to you, you are not alone. According to industry statistics, most of the IT turnover happens immediately after the successful delivery of large programs. It seems that many successful Information Management professionals crave the excitement that comes with an impossible deadline: they need to feel that they are absolutely needed and nothing could be done well or on time without their expertise. In my opinion, this is part of the human nature, as individuals we tend to measure our worthiness by our contributions to society at work, at church, or even at home. It is almost impossible not to increase your ego when you are getting constant and immediate feedback on the effort you are providing and you are seeing the direct impact it has on achieving the goal. However as “human” as this reaction can be, it is one of the most fragile situations an individual can face.  During this quiet “period”, defined as the absence of constant feedback, the IT professional needs to be extremely careful of not to make any rash decisions just to get “back in the game”. It is almost funny to be in this paradox, many people spend their entire professional careers trying to achieve success, but as beauty, the definition of success is in the eye of the beholder and can change quickly depending on the perspective from which is being looked at. As many successful people have found out, it takes a significant amount of effort to achieve success, but it takes an even higher degree of discipline to maintain success.

So, as the title of this blog asks, what is next? In my experience what follows is a battle of the self, where a new equilibrium of the inner ego and outside person needs to be achieved before one can embark on the next big “adventure”. This battle of the self cannot be won using technology; it needs to be fought from within through self-discovery. The biggest break through will come the time that we realize that our worth is not defined by how many emails we get a day, or how many reports/dashboards we can deliver but on our capacity to learn and adapt to new environments, after all it is also part of the human nature the capacity to survive in the most inhospitable climates. More importantly you worth is not defined by what you have done, neither from what you will do but from the self. You are, you exist and you have the capacity to be happy regardless of what life alternative you decide to choose. After all, the world is vast and the possibilities are only limited by our imagination.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The power of the ONE

After reading the title you will probably be wondering what or who is the one, are we talking about one architecture, one tool stack, one service provider, etc. While it is indeed certain all these things are important in the context of a BI engagement, in this post I will explore the power of the one leading the program. If you have been in the BI industry for a while, you might have noticed that typically success or failure is always the responsibility of a project team or is seen as a group effort, but rarely do we identify who is the one person in the organization that is driving the vision. The hypothesis of this post is that the leader is perhaps the most important success factor in a BI program, this person can single handedly take a program off-track or bring a derailed program back on the right path.
Many textbooks have been written about leadership, but surprisingly few, if any, discuss the traits of leadership required to successfully lead a BI team. This presents the opportunity for this blogger to explore unchartered territories. For context setting, let me draw a connection to one of my favorite leadership authors: Ken Blanchard. A few years back, I had the opportunity to attend a global leadership symposium where he was one of the speakers. What I remember the most out of his lecture is “Don’t be a duck, be an eagle”. While I won’t repeat the whole lecture in this post, I can summarize it by saying that he stated that leaders don’t complaint, they don’t make excuses, they put attention to detail and are really good pinning a single without losing context of the forest, and most importantly listen and lead by example.
I believe we can all relate to Ken’s vision of leadership, as nobody escapes having a boss, even the CEO of a company answers to the Board of directors and the share holders, and I am sure president Obama is keenly aware that the voters will determine his political future before the end of the year. So, coming back to our discussion, how can we prove/disprove the hypothesis that the leader is the most important success factor? While the team will face many challenges during the life of the program, technical, political, personal, etc. It is not the challenges that will set the team back, but how the “team” reacts to them. While it is certainly a group reaction, the individuals in this team will look at the leader for guidance, specifically for a model that given them a dimension of how big is the challenge and advise on how to proceed next. A good leader will make any team dynamics work in their favor, while a person who lacks the heart of leadership will struggle regardless of how the team might be.
I recently came upon a program where they had significant challenges migrating some reports from Cognos to Business Objects. The situation was rather unique as this client only had one technical expert in their ranks, and this expert was not familiar with how Business Objects worked. The situation got complicated as the team’s first design was less than optimal and this was a significant cause for concern because they had tight deadlines with CIO visibility. This technical situation rocked the boat so violently, that it almost put a stop in the whole program; it was not until the leader took control of the situation and started firmly directing the activities on the ground that the waters calmed down. I strongly believe that this leader demonstrated all the qualities described by Blanchard while avoiding the common pitfalls. In contrast there was organization who had a change in the Director of BI and the new leader did not take the time to listen to the team but just went ahead with his own personal agenda. Things did not work out, not because the leader or the team lacked the capacity to complete the program, but because people did not believe into what they needed to do. At the end, it became very evident that passion and commitment were far more important than technical or intellectual capabilities.
In summary, the evidence of leadership is irrefutable, it can provide a great influence for progress or it can set a team back into a dark age, truly while BI is a team effort, we cannot underestimate the power of the one.