Step 1: Tips on starting a Data project with a business motivation

In Blogfest-en by Baufest

We have seen our fair share of data teams castaway in the island of ad-hocland, where the sole purpose of the “Business Intelligence” area is degraded over time to “the people who can write the code I needed yesterday but will settle for ASAP”.

Friday 10 - December - 2021

That is, par excellence, the data stale-mate, and after that… Well, the data complaints are at the order of the day, aren’t they? “It’s not useful”, “it’s not on time”, “What happened to our sales last month? These numbers can’t be right… “

Ring a bell?

As you’ve probably read in our article “7 Steps to Creating a Data-Centered Business”, the first step is to establish what you need to know to drive your business decisions.

Let’s go a bit deeper into why this is so critical for your data strategy to be successful, and what it takes.

Simply put, for a business to be data driven, data must be business driven as well. While there will be challenges along the way, from quality issues to technical capabilities (which we will cover in later articles), one that should have no excuse above the rest, is the following: All Data projects must follow a business motivation. It’s the foundation of a successful relationship between business and data and IT teams, and one that most certainly guarantees the best outcomes.

Why is that?

Let’s imagine a simple Market Share KPI delivered to a marketing department in three very common scenarios:

  • In the first scenario, the market share KPI that the data team built was based on general marketing assumptions and background knowledge in hopes to align to Marketing’s objectives.
  • In a second scenario, the data team agrees with a data savvy marketing director that a market share KPI will be built but there will be no further advancement based on any knowledge learned.. It delivers, and, while the KPI will be used, there’s little or no room for a nice synergy.
  • In a third and ideal scenario, both areas dig deeper into what the KPI means to the marketing director. They explain that they want to understand their regional sales ceiling and growth opportunities to develop a strategy. Understanding this, there’s room to add some value: production output, median income household by region, sales by region. By doing this, business will not only design a more precise strategy, but probably see beyond their immediate need and be more likely to request further detail or even ask for metrics outside of their initial expectations. This is the virtuous cycle that data driven organizations encourage.

Hopefully at this point, you are with us that your data needs to be business driven.

But what does it really mean?

Merry as it sounds, this actually exposes the inherent complexity behind Data projects, as they are meant to reflect your business. If you’ve been in a data project before, you already know what we’re talking about. Ever changing, driven by several priorities (or departments) at a time.

So here are 3 key elements we set from day one to help our clients and data projects stay course: Engagement, Solid sponsorship, and Focus.

1. Engagement

First and foremost, building a project out of a business motivation will most certainly guarantee that the end product will be used and that business will demand more data solutions as time moves on. Why? Because, good data tends to actually open the possibility of more and deeper business questions.

Business and Data teams should not follow a client/vendor relationship. They should be partners, and this is better achieved when one is a clear driver while the other one is the copilot finding the best roads to reach destination, with a GPS at hand.

All along the way from definition to delivery, there’s more certainty of a stakeholder’s engagement.

Still, you need the right sponsorship in your corner.

2. Solid Sponsorship

No news here: Data projects require effort (time and money). Often, this effort will require many areas to participate. Maybe the data we require is not yet being captured and processes have to be created from scratch in order to get the data. Maybe the available data has Quality issues that require remediation and that typically involves several areas.. And where are we with our technology?

Good sponsorship is secured by a clear ROI which can actually show the value of the data project and data elements involved (as in, “this information is ACTUALLY worth money”). Speaking about the monetary impact about your data requirements and what you can achieve once you have your data, makes them a lot more attractive and easy to justify and prioritize these endeavors company-wide.

Wait. Did I just read company-wide?

3. Focus

Have you ever asked a child to write a letter to Santa? Get ready with tons of paper, because an excited child and Santa with a bottomless bag of gifts will surely result in an endless list of wishes. Sadly, no such bag exists in the data development world, so “capture and measure EVERYTHING” should probably be left for next Christmas and instead bring out our most valuable prioritization tool: FOCUS!

Our favorite way to encourage focus is to ask: what business problem keeps you up at night? This simple yet powerful question helps us to connect with a stakeholder’s organizational urgencies and empathize to provide results with a data solution. Surely, you already know what you need help to measure to get your business moving, and what is just desirable.

So, don’t start by trying to boil the ocean. We’ll dive deeper into this in step 3 of our series.

Now that you know what to consider when starting your Data project and why it must follow your business motivations, let’s take another step into helping you define your metrics.

See you next week!