My esteemed colleague, Larry English and I are currently working on a root- cause analysis for one of our client sites. We are seeking to discover the reasons why the vast majority of this client's projects have had exemplary results and why one did not enjoy the same level of success. As we review the events and dynamics surrounding the project, I am struck by the repeated instances of simple things, inconsequential when considered alone, that add up to major contributors to disappointment when considered together.

I have extended the exercise to examine the dozens of business intelligence (BI) projects that I have been exposed to recently, and I am struck by the similarity of results. Again and again, projects and teams that have struggled or met with less success in some aspects of their initiatives than they would have liked share a collection of accumulated basic, seemingly simple things. It seems that the more the science of data warehousing and BI advance, the more organizations and teams lose track of the fundamentals required to ensure and facilitate team and project success.

The idea is to not repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before you. Don't lose track of the basics while you focus on the esoteric.

  1. Provide a productive workspace to your team. It is amazing that an organization can pour millions of dollars into a project while housing its project team in cramped, poorly lit, loud, obtrusive, confusing and otherwise unproductive workspaces. Productivity losses of 20 to 30 percent are common estimates in these situations. Your teams will use their workspaces as a key to gauge the relative importance of the project to the organization.
  2. Practice good meeting fundamentals. Require an agenda. Appoint a scribe, a facilitator and a timekeeper for each meeting. Keep the meeting focused on the agenda items and keep it moving. Do not allow participants to bully others or dominate the meeting trying to prove they are the smartest ones in the room. Require action items and attach clear responsibility to them to resolve issues. Document the meeting, the follow-up and outcomes from the action items. Hold people accountable.
  3. Listen to and follow the advice, guidance and recommendations of the experienced people you hire. Don't get yourself into the position of having to explain why you ignored their advice.
  4. Don't break the fundamental rules and not expect to pay the price. Regardless of who you are, you have not received general dispensation that exempts you from the laws of physics of the BI universe: rookie teams make mistakes and take longer; parallel development with a new online transaction processing (OLTP) system is one of the toughest routes to go; and a huge scope and limited resources mean you will run long and over budget at best. (This list could easily continue for several pages.)
  5. Don't confuse confidence with competence. Attending a conference and reading a book does not an expert make. Nor do volume and belligerence equate to knowledge and insight. OLTP and general IT project experience don't count for much on a data warehousing project.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. As I often say, as technologists, we are incredibly good at a great number of things; however, if you listed our top 200 skills, communication and political savvy would likely be numbers 199 and 200. To drive success the typical BI project requires unceasing and relentless communication to your team, your management and to the business. In many ways, the job of BI project manager is primarily a marketing position. You must constantly sell and resell the value and worth of your vision and your project to your team, your management and the business as a whole.
  7. Build solutions to solve business pain. Your system must solve specific, politically meaningful pain in the business. You must be advancing the agenda of a politically meaningful player in the business in a measurable way. You cannot build "nice-to-haves," especially in your first few iterations and in the current economic climate. Identify specific, discrete pain in the business and build a measurable, politically meaningful solution to that pain.

As technologists, we are often consumed by the technical complexity and endless analytical challenges of our BI projects. In pursuing the answers to these intellectually complex and mentally rewarding challenges, we can overlook many of the simple, basic things that can ultimately spell our defeat. Avoid this fate by getting back to basics.

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