Thursday, May 14, 2009

Putting for Analytics

I often do my best thinking on a putting green that is conveniently located about half mile from my desk.

Recently, I was all lined up, taking a practice swing, and it was perfect, very smooth. My practice swings are usually pretty good, I remember and focus on all the technique I have learned from coaches, lectures, books, experience. I swing freely and effortlessly.

Things only seem to go awry when I put a ball in front of me. I stop swinging freely, I tense up, tighten my grip, and both my swing and the ball become erratic. I have spent years attempting to recreate my practice swing with a ball present, I am sometimes successful, sometimes less so, but I’m always a scratch golfer when I golf without a ball.

Why is there a difference between my practice swing and my real swing? I think it's because when the ball is there, I become so focused on performance that I no longer think about the process that gets me the putt I am after.

I have found the same to be true about a performance focused mindset in business intelligence. Companies spend much less time examining the fundamentals of what got them to where they are in the first place. While examining the reports of a standard company, all focus is directed on dissecting "What happened?" When companies are only performance-oriented, much time is spent analyzing sales by product, by territory, by sales person, by location, or by time of the year. Retail organizations look sharply at sales during "the season", while time and billing firms examine their "top performers" with a keen interest. But how much do these things impact the future? Regardless of what the answer might have been in the past, our current recession has made it very clear that the companies that are solid are those who focused on sound fundamentals, on the process. How effective is it now to examine December 2007 sales? Will those figures have any impact or accurate prediction on what sales will be like in December 2009? What about December 2010? It is likely that if companies continue to be overly performance focused, reactions will be tense and erratic.

I see examples of this behavior in the news, all the time. The latest government stimulus packages are very reactive, with little thought put into goals, impact, future. Wall Street is too results oriented. Every time a firm posts numbers that are shorter than expectations, there is a direct impact on stock price, which affects the longevity of that organization. As companies focus on current numbers, avoid creating a vision, and the process to implement it, they too compromise the future.

So I loosen up, I remember what I have been taught and what I have learned from experience. I know how to do this. I remind myself that keeping an eye on the ball is important...but I will never make it to the hole/goal if I lose my grip on the club.

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