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It's the People

Published
  • November 01 1999, 1:00am EST

Have you been wondering why so many data warehousing projects fail? It's the people! The main cause of data warehouse failures is "people problems." With the capabilities of technology today, it becomes easy to rely too heavily on tools and forget about the people who are critical to the project's success. This is a costly oversight, since the team will decide the fate of the project.

Data warehouse project failures rarely stem from technical issues. Reasons for failure usually include things such as scope creep, uncertainty and/or fear stemming from a lack of understanding, little or no buy- in from management and users, poor leadership, the lack of knowledge transfer and other management and leadership factors.

Many organizations begin ­ and often times finish ­ a data warehouse project without effectively planning or setting goals and objectives. The actual construction of a warehouse is only one piece of the puzzle. Along the way, there are pieces (such as people and communication issues) that are just as critical, if not more critical, to the success of the project. These other pieces are commonly referred to as change enablement. Change enablement is a framework which, when properly implemented, will allow the organization to grow and learn with the project. The key to enabling change within any organization is developing awareness and understanding, gaining acceptance and commitment, and continuous project administration and leadership support. Each element is critical to the warehouse's success.

Management must guide and support the project from beginning to end. Almost all data warehouse failures can be linked to poor management and leadership. The scope and goals of the project must be set early and adhered to throughout the life of the project. Fluctuation of objectives and scope, commonly referred to as scope creep, results in confusion for project team members and, more importantly, users. Without the commitment and understanding of the warehouse users, the project is in danger of failing. The project sponsor and manager must support and guide the project while focusing on specific areas of change along the way.

Leadership is just as important throughout, but this role is particularly important in the early stages of the project. Some changes in scope might be necessary; these changes must be made with careful forethought and communication to the user community. All members of the organization need to be aware of the changes taking place and understand why they are occurring. If employees have questions or are unsure of the changes taking place, leadership can have a tremendous effect on their attitude. Therefore, project leaders must effectively educate the user community and support the project. Without the employees support, the project cannot be a success. It is the project leadership's responsibility to create excitement and encourage education in all employees.

Before, during and after development of the warehouse begins, the organization must be informed as to what changes the warehouse will bring and how these changes will affect each and every person. Without ensuring that users and project team members fully understand the impact of the warehouse, the organization will be confused and even threatened by the dramatic changes that might occur in their work environment. The project team can educate the organization through learning lunches, educational meetings and continuous communication. Education is only the first stage in gaining buy-in and acceptance ­ two more factors that often lead to project failure.

As the project progresses, acceptance from the organization becomes increasingly important. If the organization expresses a lack of confidence, it can spread like a disease and infect the entire organization. Members of the organization must understand the project's goals and objectives and believe that they are going to benefit from the changes implemented. There must be a mutual commitment between users, project team members and executive-level sponsors. The team can construct the best warehouse and believe in its capabilities; but without properly training and educating users, the tools are useless. The organization must be able to support and use the system independently. The organization must also be committed to working through any problems that arise. Through the iterative process, users will be able to enhance the tools to better serve their needs. The technology is capable, but the users must know how to manipulate the system.

By addressing people and communication issues at the outset of the project and continuing to monitor them throughout, data warehouse projects will succeed. Ignoring the people issues ­ communication, awareness, buy-in and acceptance, commitment, training, knowledge transfer ­ inevitably leads to project setbacks. The technology will not fail the team, but the team might fail the technology. Enabling the organization to change enables data warehouse success.

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