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Article Blog General January 17, 2017 3 minute read

3 Best Practices for Great Data & Analytics Engagements

Amid fierce market competition, rapidly evolving technologies, and high expectations from clients for seamless project delivery (on time, on budget, as few surprises as possible, etc.), Business and technical consultants need to be continuously on top of their game across a wide spectrum of technical and non-technical (“soft skill”) areas, throughout the entire engagement lifecycle. Here, Steve Barkin, Director of Business Consulting at Saama, offers three client engagement best practices to consider as starting points.

There is a well-known saying:  “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”

In the interest of helping others learn the lesson before the test comes, here are three learnings assimilated  over my many years of leading the data & analytics-related engagements – consulting clients as well as internal business partners.

  1. Escalate without Stigma:

    Identify the real business decision makers in the client organization and bring them to the table efficiently.

    These decision makers are usually seniors in the organization and have small amount of time dedicated to a particular project.  It is therefore important to identify and coax them to the table on a regular basis, starting early in the project, and make good, efficient use of their time so they’ll see benefit and keep coming back. Ironically, in the end, these people always come back to the table, only in response to escalations i.e. when things aren’t going as expected or the project is delayed.  It is better to bring them proactively to the table to improve the outcomes of the project – to “escalate without stigma” – rather than facing them reactively at the same table to explain why things went wrong in their absence.
  2. Pay extra attention to granularity:

    Make sure the pieces fit.

    Whether one is designing a data warehouse, a set of business intelligence dashboards, or building a predictive modeling application, ascertaining and gaining client agreement, proper precision in inputs and outputs is critical. There are many tools available for facilitating this – e.g. “Kimball bus matrix “ for a data warehouse, or reporting requirements document for a set of dashboards – but the thinking and communication process is even more critical than the specific tool chosen.Identifying gaps early in the process leads to right discussions and re-mediations to make the system coherent.  Identifying these gaps late may lead to loss of vendor credibility, project delays, and even failed projects, because too much money and time would have been spent, and appetite for making the required changes would have decreased.
  3. Staff holistically:

    The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

    A mistake that consulting firms sometime make is technical overstaffing – i.e. they assign team members with the right level of technical depth but insufficient business breadth.   This can lead to silos within an engagement without sufficient attention paid over making sure that the pieces fit together properly and that the overall solution fits the intended purpose, business need, and end-to-end use cases.This need for business breadth is sometimes addressed by the assignment of a senior “Program Manager” or “Project Manager” – but people playing these roles can find themselves focused 100% on execution details,  timing, task sequencing – keeping the project “on time and on budget” – leaving the broader business role unaddressed.

    For a large project, a “Lead Business Analyst” or “Lead Business Consultant” is therefore often needed – sometimes at more senior levels than expected. This role clarity should be made explicit, and appropriate “face-offs” for these people defined – typically, the Project Manager talks more frequently to the IT and PMO staff at the client organization, whereas the Lead Business Consultant spends more time with “the business” – which may be Finance, Marketing or whichever department is intended to be the ultimate user and beneficiary of the solution.

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