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Top 10 Characteristics of a BI/CRM Leader, Part 1

  • September 01 2002, 1:00am EDT

In The Pyramid Climbers, Vance Packard said, "In essence leadership appears to be the art of getting others to want to do something you are convinced should be done." I noted the words "to want" in the statement as I thought about the many data warehouse leaders I've had contact with over the years. Promises, incentives, threats and other extrinsic factors can always be used to motivate. Managers are famous for these tactics, but the true leaders operate differently.

In The Data Warehousing Institute's salary survey this year, the largest percentage of respondents identified their primary role as "project manager." However, management and leadership are not synonymous. Here, I will distinguish them by the ability to achieve intrinsic motivation of others. Successful business intelligence/customer relationship management (BI/CRM) needs people to step up to the leadership challenge. To this end, I present the top 10 (top 5 this month) factors that make a strong BI and CRM leader.

1. Communication Skills. There is no such thing as over-communication in BI and CRM projects. This includes communication upward, to peers and to staff. The key success factor in these projects is the development team's interaction with the customer.

Confusion over where a leader stands creates stress. Ambiguous managers are viewed as untrustworthy. Irwin Federman, president and chief executive officer of Monolithic Memories says it best: "Trust is a risk game. The leader must ante up first." Surely, one way is the best for a lot of approaches in BI/CRM – one principal way to model, one architectural direction, etc. Leaders lead but are able to back off if sufficient evidence supports a different direction.

Delegating tasks clearly and with a proper sense of the urgency and finding a balance between the opportunity and the person's skill level while creating a sense of control by the staff are communication skills necessary to be a leader. Keeping interactions focused on the gains and not the losses also helps establish leadership.

Mutual respect sustains the extraordinary group effort these projects require. That respect can only be gained by vast amounts of communication ­ through e-mail, voicemail, personal messages, lunches, written status reporting, team meetings and social meetings.

2. Empathy, Listening and Team-Building Skills. I've lumped these together because they are so interrelated. To be a leader, you must have followers. Followers look for credibility in their leaders. Leaders truly care about their followers. They actively listen, and not in a perfunctory way, to team members, management and customers. While it's well-known that the "IT data warehouse" is a cause of many failures, they still happen!

Collaboration always beats competition as a means to produce results. Using "we" whenever possible to convey the true nature of these projects as team projects with team results by team members is a technique used by several leaders.

Truly listen to team members. The people doing the work are the source of many wonderful ideas. Unfortunately, too often they get stifled. Over time, leaders lose these followers.

Finally, celebrate your wins. Don't wait for the perfect project before distributing kudos. Leaders ensure small victories that promote consistent progress and build commitment.

3. Problem Solving Skills. No projects in this field go completely smoothly. The less experience one has with the projects, the more expectations will not be met due to the realities of the complexity of the project. BI sounds simple enough at a high conceptual level – move data from one database to another. But the devil is in the details, and that's why we have DM Review and a $100B+ industry.

Leaders must keep their heads about them during a crisis and focus on the outcome. Problems can mount, but each problem has an acceptable outcome and must simply be worked until that outcome is achieved. Whether explicitly delegated as such or not, each person is mindful and working on only one problem at a time.

Also, corporations are notorious for unconsciously conspiring to maintain the status quo, which BI and CRM tend to disrupt. Proactive work on problems is not always the most accepted form of problem solving, although it is the most effective.

Finally, if you truly don't perceive a problem, go out and find something that is broken. The cliché, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" stifles innovation. There is always something that needs to be fixed.

4. Company Business Knowledge. Intimately knowing the business of your company is critical to leadership in these projects that have a variety of applications to the business. If you are not familiar with the bottom line and how that is generated, you cannot effectively drive the project toward the important areas.

5. Time Management Skills. There are probably 100 different activities that are either going on or could be tended to at any point in time during a BI and/or CRM project. What about the data model, the users, the functionality, the architecture, the tools, the disk, the contracts, etc.? If you need a job to help you become schizophrenic, a BI and/or CRM project leader job is it. However, true leaders develop a system of organization, time management and delegation that keeps them focused on important items while ensuring that all needs are met.

Leaders show the way. Lead yourself first by managing your time.

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