I recently had the opportunity to be a member of a panel of business intelligence (BI) industry thought-leaders at a recent conference of The Data Warehousing Institute. It was a typical panel session where the moderator, Wayne Eckerson, tossed out some issues for us to address, followed by some questions from the audience.

One of the final questions from the audience was particularly timely and thought-provoking. An attendee asked, and I'm paraphrasing here, "What do you think we will be talking about in this expert panel session in two to three years?"

In their answers, the other panel members made excellent points about trends in the market and probable evolutions of technical, process and change-management factors in the near- to mid-term. Their comments were insightful, relevant and useful.

When my turn came, I found that my response was more personal and related to each individual attendee, rather than the industry, technology or macro-market segment trends.

Instead, I focused on a choice that each of you must make as you manage your BI career – a choice that can arguably be the most important decision you will make in this chapter of your lives. This choice will likely be the single most important factor in the success of your BI systems, projects, teams and, subsequently, your career.

I asked the audience to create a mental image of a pie chart. I asked them to create segments for each of their planned training activities for the coming year. A slice for specific tool training, a slice for general skills such as data modeling or project management, a slice for mandated corporate policy training such as sexual harassment, a slice for ongoing training in their bread-and- butter tool/technology of choice to stay current with new releases, a slice for maintaining that dead-end technology they'd love to eject but must keep for the functioning of an old system and a slice for hot, new, emerging technology training sure to keep their resume and career prospects alive.

Next, I asked them how big of a slice they had in their mental pie chart for training, skills development and ongoing growth in the most important factors in the success of BI projects: communications, expectation management, conflict resolution, corporate politics, etc.

A chorus of groans and a wave of knowing grimaces swept the room.

The reality is that while any list of the top 10 reasons for BI project failure will consistently feature these "soft skills" issues, as a profession, we consistently invest proportionally little to no personal and team development in these areas. As technologists, we are much more interested in developing technical skills in technical areas.

It's all about investing in ourselves. Investing in our education. Investing in our personal and career development. Unfortunately, we end up investing mostly in the technological areas of our development portfolio. This leads to an unbalanced personal growth investment portfolio. Just as being overinvested in one segment of your financial portfolio can yield disastrous results, so too can being overinvested in one segment of your personal and career development portfolio.

Fundamentally, this shouldn't come as any surprise. After all, technology is what makes us happy, and that's why we chose technical careers in the first place. Also, fundamentally, unless and until we turn this out-of-balance investment portfolio around, we will continue to face ongoing challenges bringing politically sustainable projects and systems to fruition.

I encourage each of you to examine your personal growth investment portfolio and your plans for the coming year. I believe you will find that it is time to revisit and rebalance the investments in personal growth and training you are making.

I encourage you to commit to specific and ongoing training in the areas that contribute to lack of success in BI system implementation: communication, expectation management, conflict resolution, political skills, etc. Commit specific time to become more familiar with your business, the issues that surround it, the personalities involved, the relationships that are important in its context and the significant short- and long-term challenges that lie ahead.

What was my answer to the question at the conference? I told the audience that it is my hope that in a few years the panel of industry experts will be hearing questions from an audience of BI professionals that reflect a set of balanced capabilities, interests, concerns and issues. I related my hope that in the next two to three years, each of them, and each of you, will invest in training and skills development that will address the most important critical success factors in our industry.

The question you must ask as you examine your own training and development investment pie chart is: How big is the pie slice I am investing in these critical success factors?

Increase your chances for success by ensuring that your skills development portfolio is a balanced one.

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