Too Big to Ignore

OCDQ Radio is an audio podcast about data quality and its related disciplines, produced and hosted by Jim Harris.

During this episode, Phil Simon shares his sage advice for getting started with big data, including the importance of having a data-oriented mindset, that ambitious long-term goals should give way to more reasonable and attainable short-term objectives, and always remembering that big data is just another means toward solving business problems.

Phil Simon is a sought-after speaker and the author of five management books, most recently Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data.  A recognized technology expert, he consults companies on how to optimize their use of technology.  His contributions have been featured on NBC, CNBC, ABC News, Inc. magazine, BusinessWeek, Huffington Post, Globe and Mail, Fast Company, Forbes, the New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites.

 

Additional Listening Options:

 

Popular OCDQ Radio Episodes

Clicking on the link will take you to the episode’s blog post:

  • Demystifying Data Science — Guest Melinda Thielbar, a Ph.D. Statistician, discusses what a data scientist does and provides a straightforward explanation of key concepts such as signal-to-noise ratio, uncertainty, and correlation.
  • Data Quality and Big Data — Guest Tom Redman (aka the “Data Doc”) discusses Data Quality and Big Data, including if data quality matters less in larger data sets, and if statistical outliers represent business insights or data quality issues.
  • Demystifying Master Data Management — Guest John Owens explains the three types of data (Transaction, Domain, Master), the four master data entities (Party, Product, Location, Asset), and the Party-Role Relationship, which is where we find many of the terms commonly used to describe the Party master data entity (e.g., Customer, Supplier, Employee).
  • Data Governance Star Wars — Special Guests Rob Karel and Gwen Thomas joined this extended, and Star Wars themed, discussion about how to balance bureaucracy and business agility during the execution of data governance programs.
  • The Johari Window of Data Quality — Guest Martin Doyle discusses helping people better understand their data and assess its business impacts, not just the negative impacts of bad data quality, but also the positive impacts of good data quality.
  • Data Profiling Early and Often — Guest James Standen discusses data profiling concepts and practices, and how bad data is often misunderstood and can be coaxed away from the dark side if you know how to approach it.
  • Studying Data Quality — Guest Gordon Hamilton discusses the key concepts from recommended data quality books, including those which he has implemented in his career as a data quality practitioner.

The Age of the Platform

OCDQ Radio is a vendor-neutral podcast about data quality and its related disciplines, produced and hosted by Jim Harris.

 

Phil Simon is the author of three books: The New Small (Motion, 2010), Why New Systems Fail (Cengage, 2010) and The Next Wave of Technologies (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).

A recognized technology expert, he consults companies on how to optimize their use of technology.  His contributions have been featured on The Globe and Mail, the American Express Open Forum, ComputerWorld, ZDNet, abcnews.com, forbes.com, The New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites.

When not fiddling with computers, hosting podcasts, putting himself in comics, and writing, Phil enjoys English Bulldogs, tennis, golf, movies that hurt the brain, fantasy football, and progressive rock—which is also the subject of this episode’s book contest (see below).

On this episode of OCDQ Radio, Phil and I discuss his fourth book, The Age of the Platform, which will be published later this year thanks to the help of the generous contributions of people like you who are backing the book’s Kickstarter project.

 

The Age of the Platform

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Win a Copy of the Book

Phil Simon wants to give one lucky OCDQ Radio listener a free copy of his new book, The Age of the Platform: Rethinking the Future of Business.

Here is how the book contest will work:

(1) Book Contest Question — On this OCDQ Radio episode, Phil Simon named his favorite song from his favorite band.  What is it?

 

(2) Book Contest Deadline — By no later than July 31, 2011, Email Jim Harris with your answer to the book contest question.

 

(3) Book Contest Winner — In early August, one winner will be randomly selected from among the emails containing the correct answer to the contest question, and Phil Simon will email the winner requesting a postal address to ship the book.

 

 

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Channeling My Inner Beagle: The Case for Hyperactivity

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Missed It By That Much

Social Media Strategy

Data Profiling Early and Often

Data Governance Star Wars

Master Data Management in Practice

The Art of Data Matching

Data Quality Pro

A Brave New Data World

#FollowFriday Spotlight: @PhilSimon

FollowFriday Spotlight is an OCDQ regular segment highlighting someone you should follow—and not just Fridays on Twitter.


Phil Simon is an independent technology consultant, author, writer, and dynamic public speaker for hire, who focuses on the intersection of business and technology.  Phil is the author of three books (see below for more details) and also writes for a number of technology media outlets and sites, and hosts the podcast Technology Today.

As an independent consultant, Phil helps his clients optimize their use of technology.  Phil has cultivated over forty clients in a wide variety of industries, including health care, manufacturing, retail, education, telecommunications, and the public sector.

When not fiddling with computers, hosting podcasts, putting himself in comics, and writing, Phil enjoys English Bulldogs, tennis, golf, movies that hurt the brain, fantasy football, and progressive rock.  Phil is a particularly zealous fan of Rush, Porcupine Tree, and Dream Theater.  Anyone who reads his blog posts or books will catch many references to these bands.

 

Books by Phil Simon

My review of The New Small:

By leveraging what Phil Simon calls the Five Enablers (Cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Free and open source software (FOSS), Mobility, Social technologies), small businesses no longer need to have technology as one of their core competencies, nor invest significant time and money in enabling technology, which allows them to focus on their true core competencies and truly compete against companies of all sizes.

The New Small serves as a practical guide to this brave new world of small business.

 

My review of The Next Wave of Technologies:

The constant challenge faced by organizations, large and small, which are using technology to support the ongoing management of their decision-critical information, is that the business world of information technology can never afford to remain static, but instead, must dynamically evolve and adapt, in order to protect and serve the enterprise’s continuing mission to survive and thrive in today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing marketplace.


The Next Wave of Technologies is required reading if your organization wishes to avoid common mistakes and realize the full potential of new technologies—especially before your competitors do.

 

My review of Why New Systems Fail:

Why New Systems Fail is far from a doom and gloom review of disastrous projects and failed system implementations.  Instead, this book contains numerous examples and compelling case studies, which serve as a very practical guide for how to recognize, and more importantly, overcome the common mistakes that can prevent new systems from being successful.

Phil Simon writes about these complex challenges in a clear and comprehensive style that is easily approachable and applicable to diverse audiences, both academic and professional, as well as readers with either a business or a technical orientation.

 

Blog Posts by Phil Simon

In addition to his great books, Phil is a great blogger.  For example, check out these brilliant blog posts written by Phil Simon:

 

Knights of the Data Roundtable

Phil Simon and I co-host and co-produce the wildly popular podcast Knights of the Data Roundtable, a bi-weekly data management podcast sponsored by the good folks at DataFlux, a SAS Company.

The podcast is a frank and open discussion about data quality, data integration, data governance and all things related to managing data.

 

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The Fellowship of #FollowFriday

Social Karma (Part 7) – Twitter

Channeling My Inner Beagle: The Case for Hyperactivity

UnderDog

Phil Simon, who is a Bulldog’s best friend and is a good friend of mine, recently blogged Channeling My Inner Bulldog: The Case for Stubbornness, in which he described how the distracting nature of multitasking can impair our ability to solve complex problems.

Although I understood every single word he wrote, after three dog nights, I can’t help but take the time to share my joy to the world by channeling my inner beagle and making the case for hyperactivity—in other words, our need to simply become better multitaskers.

The beloved mascot of my blog post is Bailey, not only a great example of a typical Beagle, but also my brother’s family dog, who is striking a heroic pose in this picture while proudly sporting his all-time favorite Halloween costume—Underdog.

I could think of no better hero to champion my underdog of a cause:

“There’s no need to fear . . . hyperactivity!”

 

Please Note: Just because Phil Simon coincidentally uses “Simon Says” as the heading for all his blog conclusions, doesn’t mean Phil is Simon Bar Sinister, who coincidentally used “Simon Says” to explain his diabolical plans—that’s completely coincidental.

 

The Power of Less

I recently read The Power of Less, the remarkable book by Leo Babauta, which provides practical advice on simplifying both our professional and personal lives.  The book has a powerfully simple message—identify the essential, eliminate the rest.

I believe that the primary reason multitasking gets such a bad reputation is the numerous non-essential tasks typically included. 

Many daily tasks are simply “busy work” that we either don’t really need to do at all, or don’t need to do as frequently.  We have allowed ourselves to become conditioned to perform certain tasks, such as constantly checking our e-mail and voice mail. 

Additionally, whenever we do find a break in our otherwise hectic day, “nervous energy” often causes us to feel like we should be doing something with our time—and so the vicious cycle of busy work begins all over again.

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing,” explained Lao Tzu

I personally find that whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by multitasking, it’s not because I am trying to distribute my time among a series of essential tasks—instead, I was really just busy doing a whole lot of nothing.  “Doing a huge number of things,” explains Babauta, “doesn’t mean you’re getting anything meaningful done.”

Meaningful accomplishment requires limiting our focus to only essential tasks.  Unlimited focus, according to Babauta, is like “taking a cup of red dye and pouring it into the ocean, and watching the color dilute into nothingness.  Limited focus is putting that same cup of dye into a gallon of water.”

Only you can decide which tasks are essential.  Look at your “to do list” and first identify the essential—then eliminate the rest.

 

It’s about the journey—not the destination

Once you have eliminated the non-essential tasks, your next challenge is limiting your focus to only the essential tasks. 

Perhaps the simplest way to limit your focus and avoid the temptation of multitasking altogether is to hyper-focus on only one task at a time.  So let’s use reading a non-fiction book as an example of one of the tasks you identified as essential.

Some people would read this non-fiction book as fast as they possibly can—hyper-focused and not at all distracted—as if they’re trying to win “the reading marathon” by finishing the book in the shortest time possible. 

They claim that this gives them both a sense of accomplishment and allows them to move on to their next essential task, thereby always maintaining their vigilant hyper-focus of performing only one task at a time. 

However, what did they actually accomplish other than simply completing the task of reading the book?

I find people—myself included—that voraciously read non-fiction books often struggle when attempting to explain the book, and in fact, they usually can’t tell you anything more than what you would get from simply reading the jacket cover of the book. 

Furthermore, they often can’t demonstrate any proof of having learned anything from reading the book.  Now, if they were reading fiction, I would argue that’s not a problem.  However, their “undistracted productivity” of reading a non-fiction book can easily amount to nothing more than productive entertainment. 

They didn’t mind the gap between the acquisition of new information and its timely and practical application.  Therefore, they didn’t develop valuable knowledge.  They didn’t move forward on their personal journey toward wisdom. 

All they did was productively move the hands of the clock forward—all they did was pass the time.

Although by eliminating distractions and focusing on only essential tasks, you’ll get more done and reach your destination faster, in my humble opinion, a meaningful life is not a marathon—a meaningful life is a race not to run.

It’s about the journey—not the destination.  In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”

Hyperactivity is Simply Better Multitasking

Although I do definitely believe in the power of less, the need to eliminate non-essential tasks, and the need to focus my attention, I am far more productive when hyper-active (i.e., intermittently alternating my attention among multiple simultaneous tasks).

Hyperactively collecting small pieces of meaningful information from multiple sources, as well as from the scattered scraps of knowledge whirling around inside my head, is more challenging, and more stressful, than focusing on only one task at a time.

However, at the end of most days, I find that I have made far more meaningful progress on my essential tasks. 

Although, in all fairness, I often breakdown and organize essential tasks into smaller sub-tasks, group similar sub-tasks together, then I multitask within only one group at a time.  This lower-level multitasking minimizes what I call the plate spinning effect, where an interruption can easily cause a disastrous disruption in productivity.

Additionally, I believe that not all distractions are created equal.  Some, in fact, can be quite serendipitous.  Therefore, I usually allow myself to include one “creative distraction” in my work routine.  (Typically, I use either Twitter or some source of music.)

By eliminating non-essential tasks, grouping together related sub-tasks, and truly embracing the chaos of creative distraction, hyperactivity is simply better multitasking—and I think that in the Digital Age, this is a required skill we all must master.

 

The Rumble in the Dog Park

So which is better?  Stubbornness or Hyperactivity?  In the so-called Rumble in the Dog Park, who wins?  Bulldogs or Beagles? 

I know that I am a Beagle.  Phil knows he is a Bulldog.  I would be unhappy as a Bulldog.  Phil would be unhappy as a Beagle. 

And that is the most important point.

There is absolutely no better way to make yourself unhappy than by trying to live by someone else’s definition of happiness.

You should be whatever kind of dog that truly makes you happy.  In other words, if you prefer single-tasking, then be a Bulldog, and if you prefer multitasking, then be a Beagle—and obviously, Bulldogs and Beagles are not the only doggone choices.

Maybe you’re one of those people who prefers cats—that’s cool too—just be whatever kind of cool cat truly makes you happy. 

Or maybe you’re neither a dog person nor a cat person.  Maybe you’re more of a Red-Eared Slider kind of person—that’s cool too.

And who ever said that you had to choose to be only one kind of person anyway? 

Maybe some days you’re a Beagle, other days you’re a Bulldog, and on weekends and vacation days you’re a Red-Eared Slider. 

It’s all good

Just remember—no matter what—always be you.

Shut Your Mouth

New data quality consultants ask me for advice all the time. 

Some are “new” because they are just starting their career.  Others are new because the recent economy has provided them the “opportunity” for a career in consulting. 

Either way, when asked if I have one key piece of advice to offer, I respond immediately with:

“Shut Your Mouth.”

Understandably, an explanation is always required.

 

The Path of Least Resistance

My advice is sometimes misunderstood as:

“Just do as your told—don't rock the boat.”

I have been a consultant for most of my career and in various capacities, namely for the services group of software companies, for consulting firms, and also as an independent.

From my perspective, consultants provide extensive experience and best practices from successful implementations.  Their goal is to help clients avoid common mistakes and customize a solution to their specific business needs.

Their primary responsibility is to make themselves obsolete as quickly as possible by providing mentoring, documentation, training, and knowledge transfer.

A consultant that chooses the path of least resistance by always agreeing with you is not worth the money you are paying them.

To quote a favorite (canceled) television show:

“If you are stupid, then surround yourself with smart people. 

If you are smart, then surround yourself with smart people who will disagree with you.”

The Art of Communication

Perhaps inevitably, my advice then becomes misunderstood as:

“I shouldn't be afraid to speak my mind—and tell them like it is!”

Not so fast—put the bullhorn down—and slowly back away.

 

Communication is more art than science. 

The ability to effectively communicate is an essential skill for all (and not just data quality) consultants.

More than anything else, effective communication requires (in fact, demands) excellent listening skills.

I often joke consultants shouldn't be allowed to speak for at least their first two weeks. 

In other words—and yes, I am also talking to you, World's Foremost Expert Supercalifragilistic Consultant—there definitely needs to be less of you telling your clients what you think, and more of you listening to what your clients have to say.

You must seek first to understand your client's current environment from both the business and technical perspectives. 

Only after you have achieved this understanding, will you then seek to be understood regarding your extensive experience of the best practices that you have seen work on successful data quality initiatives.

 

Can Consultants Lead?

This great question (and the interesting debate it sparked) was the title of an excellent recent blog post by Phil Simon.

My conversation in the comments section with Don Frederiksen, included my paraphrasing of Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching (since I literally own eight different English translations, please note I am quoting from possibly my all-time favorite, the “American poetic” translation by Witter Bynner), where I substituted the word leader with the word consultant:

A consultant is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
‘Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you;’
But of a good consultant, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’

Shut Your Mouth

Good communication is a bad mother—Shut Your Mouth!

I'm talking about becoming a better listener.

Can you dig it?

 

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Follow OCDQ

If you enjoyed this blog post, then please subscribe to OCDQ via my RSS feed or my E-mail updates.

You can also follow OCDQ on Twitter, fan the Facebook page for OCDQ, and connect with me on LinkedIn.


Will people still read in the future?

This question and debate was motivated by my comments on the recent blog post The Future of Reading by Phil Simon.

In the following OCDQ Video, I share some of my perspectives on the future of reading, specifically covering three key points:

  1. Books vs. e-Books
  2. Print Media vs. Social Media
  3. Reading vs. Multimedia

  If you are having trouble viewing this video, then you can watch it on Vimeo by clicking on this link: OCDQ Video

 

A Very Brief History of Human Communication

Long before written language evolved, humans communicated using hand and facial gestures, monosyllabic and polysyllabic grunting, as well as crude drawings and other symbols, all in an attempt to share our thoughts and feelings with each other.

First, improved spoken language increased our ability to communicate by using words as verbal symbols for emotions and ideas.  Listening to stories, and retelling them to others, became the predominant means of education and “recording” our history.

Improved symbolism via more elaborate drawings, sculptures, and other physical and lyrical works of artistic expression, greatly enhanced our ability to not only communicate, but also leave a lasting legacy beyond the limits of our individual lives.

Later, written language would provide a quantum leap in human evolution.  Writing (and reading) greatly improved our ability to communicate, educate, record our history, and thereby pass on our knowledge and wisdom to future generations.

 

The Times They Are a-Changin’

The pervasiveness of the Internet and the rapid proliferation of powerful mobile technology is transforming the very nature of human communication—some purists might even argue it is regressing human communication.

I believe there is already a declining interest in reading throughout society in general, and more specifically, a marked decline across current generation gaps, which will become even more dramatic in the coming decades.

 

Books vs. e-Books

People are reading fewer books—and fewer people are reading books.  The highly polarized “book versus e-book debate” is really only a debate within the shrinking segment of the population that still reads books. 

So, yes, between us book lovers, some of us will not exchange our personal tactile relationship with printed books for an e-book reader made of the finest plastic, glass, and metal, and equipped with all the bells and whistles of the latest technology. 

However, e-book readers simply aren't going to make non-book readers want to read books.  I am truly sorry Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but the truth is—the Kindle and Nook are not going to making reading books cool—they will simply provide an alternative for people who already enjoy reading books, and mostly for those who also love having the latest techno-gadgets.

 

Print Media vs. Social Media

We continue to see print media (newspapers, magazines, and books) either offering electronic alternatives, or transitioning into online publications—or in some cases, simply going out of business.

I believe the primary reason for this media transition is our increasing interest in exchanging what has traditionally been only a broadcast medium (print media) for a conversation medium (social media).

Social media can engage us in conversation and enable communication between content creators and their consumers.

We are constantly communicating with other people via phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and status updates on Twitter and Facebook.  We are also sharing more of our lives visually through the photos we post on Flickr and the videos we post on YouTube.  More and more, we are creating—and not just consuming—content that we want to share with others.

We are also gaining more control over how we filter communication.  Google real-time searches and e-mail alerts, RSS readers, and hashtagged Twitter streams—these are just a few examples of the many tools currently allowing us to customize and personalize the content we create and consume.

We are becoming an increasingly digital society, and through social media, we are living more and more of both our personal and professional lives online, blurring—if not eliminating—the distinction between the two.

 

Reading vs. Multimedia

I believe the future of human communication will be a return to the more direct social interactions that existed before the evolution of written language.  I am not predicting a return to polysyllabic grunting and interpretive dance. 

Instead, I believe we will rely less and less on reading and writing, and more and more on watching, listening, and speaking.

The future of human communication may become short digital bursts of multimedia experiences, seamlessly blending an economy of words with audio and video elements.  Eventually, even digitally written words may themselves disappear—and we will communicate via interactive digital video and audio—and the very notion of “literacy” may become meaningless.

But fear not—I don't predict this will happen until the end of the century—and I am probably completely wrong anyway.

 

Please Share Your Thoughts

Do you read a lot of books?  If so, have you purchased an e-book reader (e.g., Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook) or are you planning to in the near-future?  If you have an e-book reader, how would you compare it to reading a printed book?

Do you read newspapers and/or magazines?  If so, are you reading them in print or online? 

How often do you read blogs and other publications that are only available as online content?

How often do you listen to podcasts or watch video blogs or other online videos (excluding television and movies)?

What is the future of reading?


Blog-Bout: “Risk” versus “Monopoly”

A “blog-bout” is a good-natured debate between two bloggers.  This blog-bout is between Jim Harris and Phil Simon, where they debate which board game is the better metaphor for an Information Technology (IT) project: “Risk” or “Monopoly.”

 

Why “Risk” is a better metaphor for an IT Project

By Jim Harris

IT projects and “Risk” have a great deal in common.  I thought long and hard about this while screaming obscenities and watching professional sports on television, the source of all of my great thinking.  I came up with five world dominating reasons.

1. Both things start with the players marking their territory.  In Risk, the game begins with the players placing their “armies” on the territories they will initially occupy.  On IT projects, the different groups within the organization will initially claim their turf. 

Please note that the term “Information Technology” is being used in a general sense to describe a project (e.g. Data Quality, Master Data Management, etc.) and should not be confused with the IT group within an organization.  At a very high level, the Business and IT are the internal groups representing the business and technical stakeholders on a project.

The Business usually owns the data and understands its meaning and use in the day-to-day operation of the enterprise.  IT usually owns the hardware and software infrastructure of the enterprise's technical architecture. 

Both groups can claim they are only responsible for what they own, resist collaborating with the “other side” and therefore create organizational barriers as fiercely defended as the continental borders of Europe and Asia in Risk.

2. In both, there are many competing strategies.  In Risk, the official rules of the game include some basic strategies and over the years many players have developed their own fool-proof plans to guarantee victory.  Some strategies advocate focusing on controlling entire continents, while others advise fortifying your borders by invading and occupying neighboring territories.  And my blog-bout competitor Phil Simon half-jokingly claims that the key to winning Risk is securing the island nation of Madagascar.

On IT projects, you often hear a lot of buzzwords and strategies bandied about, such as Lean, Agile, Six Sigma, and Kaizen, to name but a few.  Please understand – I am an advocate for methodology and best practices, and there are certainly many excellent frameworks out there, including the paradigms I just mentioned.

However, a general problem that I have with most frameworks is their tendency to adopt a one-size-fits-all strategy, which I believe is an approach that is doomed to fail.  Any implemented framework must be customized to adapt to an organization’s unique culture. 

In part, this is necessary because implementing changes of any kind will be met with initial resistance, but an attempt at forcing a one-size-fits-all approach almost sends a message to the organization that everything they are currently doing is wrong, which will of course only increase the resistance to change. 

Starting with a framework simply provides a reference of best practices and recommended options of what has worked on successful IT projects.  The framework should be reviewed in order to determine what can be learned from it and to select what will work in the current environment and what simply won't.     

3. Pyrrhic victories are common during both endeavors.  In Risk, sacrificing everything to win a single battle or to defend your favorite territory can ultimately lead you to lose the war.  Political fiefdoms can undermine what could otherwise have been a successful IT project.  Do not underestimate the unique challenges of your corporate culture.

Obviously, business, technical and data issues will all come up from time to time, and there will likely be disagreements regarding how these issues should be prioritized.  Some issues will likely affect certain stakeholders more than others. 

Keeping data and technology aligned with business processes requires getting people aligned and free to communicate their concerns.  Coordinating discussions with all of the stakeholders and maintaining open communication can prevent a Pyrrhic victory for one stakeholder causing the overall project to fail.

4. Alliances are the key to true victory.  In Risk, it is common for players to form alliances by combining their resources and coordinating their efforts in order to defend their shared borders or to eliminate a common enemy. 

On IT projects, knowledge about data, business processes and supporting technology are spread throughout the organization.  Neither the Business nor IT alone has all of the necessary information required to achieve success. 

Successful projects are driven by an executive management mandate for the Business and IT to forge an alliance of ongoing and iterative collaboration throughout the entire project.

5. The outcomes of both are too often left to chance.  IT projects are complex, time-consuming, and expensive enterprise initiatives.  Success requires people taking on the challenge united by collaboration, guided by an effective methodology, and implementing a solution using powerful technology.

But the complexity of an IT project can sometimes work against your best intentions.  It is easy to get pulled into the mechanics of documenting the business requirements and functional specifications, drafting the project plan and then charging ahead on the common mantra: “We planned the work, now we work the plan.”

Once an IT project achieves some momentum, it can take on a life of its own and the focus becomes more and more about making progress against the tasks in the project plan, and less and less on the project's actual business goals.  Typically, this leads to another all too common mantra: “Code it, test it, implement it into production, and then declare victory.”

In Risk, the outcomes are literally determined by a roll of the dice.  If you allow your IT project to lose sight of its business goals, then you treat it like a game of chance.  And to paraphrase Albert Einstein:

“Do not play dice with IT Projects.”

Why “Monopoly” is a better metaphor for an IT Project

By Phil Simon

IT projects and “Monopoly” have a great deal in common.  I thought long and hard about this at the gym, the source of all of my great thinking.  I came up with six really smashing reasons.

1. Both things take much longer than originally expected.  IT projects typically take much longer than expected for a wide variety of reasons.  Rare is the project that finishes on time (with expected functionality delivered).

The same holds true for Monopoly.  Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to play a quick game?  Now, I consider the term “a quick game of Monopoly” to be the very definition of an oxymoron.  You’d better block off about four to six hours for a proper game.  Unforeseen complexities will doubtlessly delay even the best intentions.

2. During both endeavors, screaming matches typically erupt.  Many projects become tense.  I remember one in which two participants nearly came to blows.  Most projects have key players engage in very heated debates over strategic vision and execution.

With Monopoly, especially after the properties are divvied up, players scream and yell over what constitutes a “fair” deal.  “What do you mean Boardwalk for Ventnor Avenue and Pennsylvania Railroad isn’t reasonable?  IT’S COMPLETELY FAIR!”  Debates like this are the rule, not the exception.

3. While the basic rules may be the same, different people play by different rules.  The vast majority of projects on which I have worked have had the usual suspects: steering committees, executive sponsors, PMOs, different stages of testing, and ultimately system activation.  However, different organizations often try to do things in vastly different ways.  For example, on two similar projects in different organizations, you are likely to find differences with respect to:

  • the number of internal and external folks assigned to a project
  • the project’s timeline and budget
  • project objectives

By the same token, people play Monopoly in somewhat different ways.  Many don’t know about the auction rule.  Others replenish Free Parking with a new $500 bill after someone lands on it.  Also, many people disregard altogether the property assessment card while sticklers like me assess penalties when that vaunted red card appears.

4. Personal relationships can largely determine the outcome in both.  Negotiation is key on IT projects.  Clients negotiate rates, prices, and responsibilities with consulting vendors and/or software vendors.

In Monopoly, personal rivalries play a big part in who makes a deal with whom.  Often players chime in (uninvited, of course) with their opinions on potential deals, without a doubt to affect the outcome.

5. Little things really matter, especially at the end.  Towards the end of an IT project, snakes in the woodwork often come out to bite people when they least expect it.  A tightly staffed or planned project may not be able to withstand a relatively minor problem, especially if the go-live date is non-negotiable.

In Monopoly, the same holds true.  Laugh all you want when your opponent builds hotels on Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue, but at the end of the game those $250 and $450 charges can really hurt, especially when you’re low on cash.

6. Many times, each does not end; it is merely abandoned.  A good percentage of projects have their plugs pulled prior to completion.  A CIO may become tired with an interminable project and decide to simply end it before costs skyrocket even further.

I’d say that about half of the Monopoly games that I’ve played in the last fifteen years have also been called by “executive decision.”  The writing is on the board, as 1 a.m. rolls around and only two players remain.  Often player X simply cedes the game to player Y.

 

You are the Referee

All bouts require a referee.  Blog-bouts are refereed by the readers.  Therefore, please cast your vote in the poll and also weigh in on this debate by sharing your thoughts by posting a comment below.  Since a blog-bout is co-posted, your comments will be copied (with full attribution) into the comments section of both of the blogs co-hosting this blog-bout.

 

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ), which is an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality.  Jim is also an independent consultant, speaker, writer and blogger with over 15 years of professional services and application development experience in data quality (DQ), data integration, data warehousing (DW), business intelligence (BI), customer data integration (CDI), and master data management (MDM).  Jim is also a contributing writer to Data Quality Pro, the leading online magazine and community resource dedicated to data quality professionals.

 

About Phil Simon

Phil Simon is the author of the acclaimed book Why New Systems Fail: Theory and Practice Collide and the highly anticipated upcoming book The Next Wave of Technologies: Opportunities from Chaos.  Phil is also an independent systems consultant and a dynamic public speaker for hire focusing on how organizations use technology.  Phil also writes for a number of technology media outlets.

Missed It By That Much

In the mission to gain control over data chaos, a project is launched in order to implement a new system to help remediate the poor data quality that is negatively impacting decision-critical enterprise information. 

The project appears to be well planned.  Business requirements were well documented.  A data quality assessment was performed to gain an understanding of the data challenges that would be faced during development and testing.  Detailed architectural and functional specifications were written to guide these efforts.

The project appears to be progressing well.  Business, technical and data issues all come up from time to time.  Meetings are held to prioritize the issues and determine their impact.  Some issues require immediate fixes, while other issues are deferred to the next phase of the project.  All of these decisions are documented and well communicated to the end-user community.

Expectations appear to have been properly set for end-user acceptance testing.

As a best practice, the new system was designed to identify and report exceptions when they occur.  The end-users agreed that an obsessive-compulsive quest to find and fix every data quality problem is a laudable pursuit but ultimately a self-defeating cause.  Data quality problems can be very insidious and even the best data remediation process will still produce exceptions.

Although all of this is easy to accept in theory, it is notoriously difficult to accept in practice.

Once the end-users start reviewing the exceptions, their confidence in the new system drops rapidly.  Even after some enhancements increase the number of records without an exception from 86% to 99% – the end-users continue to focus on the remaining 1% of the records that are still producing data quality exceptions.

Would you believe this incredibly common scenario can prevent acceptance of an overwhelmingly successful implementation?

How about if I quoted one of the many people who can help you get smarter than by only listening to me?

In his excellent book Why New Systems Fail: Theory and Practice Collide, Phil Simon explains:

“Systems are to  be appreciated by their general effects, and not by particular exceptions...

Errors are actually helpful the vast majority of the time.”

In fact, because the new system was designed to identify and report errors when they occur:

“End-users could focus on the root causes of the problem and not have to wade through hundreds of thousands of records in an attempt to find the problem records.”

I have seen projects fail in the many ways described by detailed case studies in Phil Simon's fantastic book.   However, one of the most common and frustrating data quality failures is the project that was so close to being a success but the focus on exceptions resulted in the end-users telling us that we “missed it by that much.”

I am neither suggesting that end-users are unrealistic nor that exceptions should be ignored. 

Reducing exceptions (i.e. poor data quality) is the whole point of the project and nobody understands the data better than the end-users.  However, chasing perfection can undermine the best intentions. 

In order to be successful, data quality projects must always be understood as an iterative process.  Small incremental improvements will build momentum to larger success over time. 

Instead of focusing on the exceptions – focus on the improvements. 

And you will begin making steady progress toward improving your data quality.

And loving it!

 

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