What Every BI Project Manager Can Learn From A Racing Supremo
In the late 1950’s, 16-year-old Frank Williams was given a ride in a Jaguar XK150. It was a car journey that would change his life. After being hurtled around the narrow lanes of Dumfriesshire at speeds in excess of 100mph, Williams became obsessed with fast cars. And nearly 60 years later, it’s an obsession that shows no signs of wavering.
Frank Williams has created one of the most successful Formula One racing teams in the world. Founded in 1977, Williams F1 is best known for building the cars that propelled Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve to victory.
Williams F1 describes itself as a “racing purist”. Unlike its counterparts, it’s the only team on the grid that doesn’t exist to sell cars or consumer products. It exists only to go racing. And in racing, winning is the only thing that matters.
Once there’s absolute clarity of a vision, it becomes easier for people to work towards a goal. In order to rouse his team, Frank distilled the goal of Williams F1 down to a very powerful, yet simple question: Will it make the car go faster?
Making the car go faster isn’t just Frank’s mantra; it’s woven into the very fabric of the organisation. If the question can’t be answered, no cheque gets signed. This single-mindedness drives every decision, every expense and every strategic move at Williams F1. From operations to engineering, sponsorship to accounting, every division, department and employee knows what their work contributes towards.
It’s about the people
In his book “Information Masters”, author John McKean reveals that personnel issues are the single biggest obstacle to success in an Information Management initiative. According to McKean, a whopping 75% of success is determined by things other than data and technology, with over 50% hinging on people, culture and leadership alone.
It appears so many projects are failing, not because of a bad choice of technology, but because of a lack of understanding of people challenges. It’s actually the non-technological issues that are preventing these expensive initiatives from succeeding.
Unlike a new back-up solution, Business Intelligence (BI) projects require a fundamental shift in how people work. As a result, they can’t be treated like a regular IT project.
Simply telling your users to close down Excel and use your shiny new tool is going to end in a revolt. You’ve got to give people a reason to care. You’ve got to explain how and why the change benefits them specifically. You’ve got to galvanize them around a unifying idea.
Single versions of the truth, access to better information, and improved data sharing aren’t visions that inspire. They’re just outcomes that benefit the business.
An effective vision is something people believe in, and will fight for. It’s a clear, distinctive and specific view of the future. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy outlined a vision to “land a man on the moon, and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade”. Kennedy’s rally cry, jump-started NASA’s Apollo program, and succeeded in helping Neil Armstrong set foot on lunar soil in 1969.
Without a compelling BI vision, people will only see a software tool. A tool that is new, scary and intimidating. In contrast, Excel is familiar and comfortable; an ingrained habit that is difficult to break. Especially when there’s no good reason to do so.
To be most effective, your BI vision needs to be aligned with the strategic vision of your entire company. For example, in healthcare it should help save lives, and improve the experience you deliver to your patients. In a police force, it should help you to uphold the law, and protect the community in which you serve.
Attaching your BI vision to the greater purpose of your company elevates it from being a tactical IT initiative, to a transformational program, instrumental to the core objective of the entire organisation.
It becomes something that everyone can understand, and more importantly, participate in. It’s not about the technology; it’s about what the technology can enable your collective team to achieve.
You are the Message
Frank Williams continues to champion his vision every day. Despite more than four decades in motor racing, his enthusiasm has never waned. The success of your BI initiative rests on your ability to do the same.
According to leadership guru John Maxwell, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” Therefore, the enthusiasm, dedication and credibility that you demonstrate daily, is paramount to the success of your BI initiative. If you’re not evangelising about the software, nobody else will. If you’re not using the software, don’t expect anybody else to either.
Frank Williams’ vision is only effective, because he’s given people a reason to buy into him. People don’t just follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders, who promote worthy causes. People buy into the leader first, and then into the leaders vision.
The success of your BI project doesn’t start with a technology choice. It might not even start with an inspiring vision.
But it does start with you.
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