Launching a new business intelligence initiative or project can be tricky: while we’re staunch believers in agile BI and quick wins, it’s important for both the BI person and the business executives to first align their needs and expectations, and to understand what the organizations hopes to achieve. The good news is, an efficient business analyst can get it done in a day or two.
After all, it makes sense that before you dive into schemas, calculations and charts, the first thing you’ll want to do is actually understand what the business hopes to achieve. This might sound bafflingly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen organizations skipping this step and going straight to building their KPI dashboards, without stopping for a second to think whether these KPIs are even relevant to the current project.
Often this happens due to an executive or analyst who has some preconceived notion of the end result, acquired from a previous company or project, which does not necessarily apply to the matter at hand. Remember: The process should always start with the business and serve the business. The metrics need to fit the organization, and not the other way around. You have to be flexible enough to accommodate the BI solution that the business actually needs, rather than the one that’s easiest for you to create.
So without further ado, let’s start planning your next BI project:
The best way to understand what the business hopes to achieve through the BI project at hand is through face-to-face meetings with the relevant stakeholders (or, less preferably, via phone or Skype). These would include whichever executives, managers or analytical users who will actually be looking at the data on a regular basis.
Don’t skip this step or make do with written specifications! These few hours of meetings will make your job that much easier down the line and will greatly increase the chances of the project being a success.
The wh- questions: Why is a particular dashboard needed? Who will use the dashboard, and who will receive its outputs? Where (and on what device) will they do it? When will the dashboard be used?
Current and desired decision processes: How are decisions currently made? How would they like to make decisions in the future? Which data is currently missing, or hard to access, and how would it affect the decisionmaking processes?
Pain points: What did they always want to know but couldn’t find out? Why is data too difficult to find or analyze? Where are analytical IT resources currently going and how could they be used more effectively?
(We have an entire article about requirements elicitation, so you can read it to learn more.)
What you’ll need: a whiteboard and markers, pen and paper, or Powerpoint Visio
Once we’ve finished interviewing our key stakeholders and understood what they expect the business intelligence project to look like, we’ll want to start visualizing — not the data (yet), but the processes themselves. What we’ll be drawing here is not graphs, widgets or visualizations, but a flowchart of sorts.