Five Steps To Prototyping A Metrics Capability For Your Business Organization

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In a world entering the age of big data, pressure is increasing across organizations to prove that their business is actually doing what they say it's doing. With the means of measuring and reporting data increasing exponentially, valid reasons for failing to measure the performance of a business organization are becoming few and far between, and stakeholders are noticing. This creates new career development opportunities for both new and experienced analysts in the exciting and growing field of Business Intelligence, Metrics, and Analytics.

Business Analysts are caught in the eye of the metrics storm. On the one hand there is increasing pressure to measure and validate performance. On the other hand, there are a host of issues ranging from lack of operational readiness to cultural resistance about opening the hood and seeing what's really going on. There is also a pervasive lack of clarity about where to start in becoming a well-measured business unit. We analysts stand in the middle of all of this with our knowledge of the business and a sense of what should be measured better but isn't.

As the key drivers of business change, Business Analysts have the opportunity to begin guiding their business units towards a state where data can be better leveraged to measure performance. If you are in a situation where you are being asked, or are providing the vision, to begin implementation of better performance metrics for your organization, consider these five steps to get you started. The end result is a prototype you can use to convince the organization of the need for adopting a more comprehensive metrics and analytics capability.

1) Define the most important strategic goals and objectives that are to be supported through measurement. These should be straightforward to obtain from artifacts like strategic plans. Why is the business unit in business? Who is it seeking to serve? What are the indicators of success? The answers to these questions set the framework for the kinds of metrics that must be developed to gauge whether the strategic goals and objectives of the organization are being met.

2) Determine what kind of measurements are required to show success or failure to meet the selected strategic goals and objectives. If the overall strategic goal is 100% customer satisfaction when they buy your widget, what is needed in order to measure whether that goal has been met or not? It could be number of complaints resolved the first time or within 30 days. It could be number of returns and cancelled sales. 

Your knowledge of the business should guide you in determining what the most relevant measures should be. However, if you are drawing a blank then consider industry best practices for inspiration (because you are likely not the first person trying to measure whatever it is.) Check out great resources such as KPIlibrary.com and APQC.org, where you can find industry best practice metrics for business functions such as Human Resources, Information Technology, Financial Management, and Sales. You are bound to find something that will ring a bell of similarity with what your organization should be measuring.

3) Think small to start. Cultural change is difficult, and so will acceptance of better measurements in an organization not accustomed to that level of scrutiny. You have a better chance of long-term success if you show a limited "prototype" or proof of concept first to demonstrate solid value, and then use that success to convince the organization to take increasingly aggressive steps towards better metrics and analytics.

Thinking small also refers to what platform you will use for demonstrating your metrics. There are fancy and expensive data warehouse and Business Intelligence products in the market that provide fantastic capabilities, but you don't need any of that to start. Using Microsoft Excel, Power BI, or an open source tool works just fine to provide a prototype.

4) Determine who has the data you need and whether it is of sufficient quality. Someone owns the data you need for measuring the metrics you have chosen, so now is the time to develop a working relationship if you don't already have one. Data stewards are invaluable for advising you on the architecture of the data and how to get the best results you want. They can also advise you on the quality of the data.

Data quality is a major issue for you to consider. Despite your best intentions when selecting metrics, the data you have may simply not be good enough or may even not exist at all. It may be unreliable or just plain wrong. If this is true, then you have to consider whether it is feasible to improve the data to the state you need, create it from scratch, or set the metrics you have selected aside and start over somewhere else.

5) Obtain executive and stakeholder buy in. As with most things Business Analysts do, you won't get far without the approval of your executive leadership and other impacted stakeholders. They may have to provide funding or staff for the work you are proposing, after all. The way to get their buy in is to convince them that knowing the information you are planning to provide will increase the ability of the organization to conduct or improve its business. This should not be a hard case to make if you selected metrics in the previous steps that tie most directly to the strategic goals and objectives of the organization. You may need to supplement your case with a mock up of what the information might look like after it has been measured. Think pie charts, bar charts, or whatever format will tell the most compelling story.

Once you have completed these five steps you are ready to pick up your tool and go. Work with your data steward to put together the data you need. If you know Excel or possess SQL skills you may be able to do this yourself, or you may need to reach out to technical staff. Again, keep it simple since the goal is to show a proof of concept.

Hopefully your prototype sells the business on the utility of better measurements. It should also help justify a business case for a more complete data and analytics capability to enable other metrics you have identified as necessary. Once an organization is on board, there are many other issues to consider such as how to identify authoritative data across the organization, how to consolidate data from numerous sources, how to implement a master data management and governance program, and more.

Needless to say, opportunities abound for new and experienced analysts to advance their careers if they are willing to increase their knowledge of analytics, metrics, and Business Intelligence. In the meantime, following these five steps will help get you and your organization on your way to being a well-measured one.


Joe Barrios, Business AnalystAuthor: Joe Barrios, Business Analyst

Joe Barrios is an Enterprise Architect and Business Analyst with over 18 years of experience providing thought leadership to senior business and IT executives on large scale business transformation and technology initiatives. He also provides coaching to individuals seeking jobs and careers as Business Analysts on his website, joebarrios.com.



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