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.

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