What Makes a Successful BI Manager?
Five talented employees cannot make up for one lousy leader – especially in business intelligence. Talent like that needs a business ecosystem and culture to flourish. It falls upon management to build that ecosystem.
It's that concept that makes managing a BI team a unique challenge to tackle. You have to have strong emotional intelligence and also understand – both from a technical and organizational level – how data flows and operates.
That's a rare combo, but it makes a world of difference when tackling the responsibilities of a BI manager. Responsibilities, such as:
If you’ll notice, none of these are overly technical. Most are more art than science. That’s why so few people can do this job well.
Building Good Team Habits
Have you ever noticed that your teeth feel gross if you don’t brush them before going to bed? Or how your hands feel slimy if you don’t wash them after using the restroom? That’s because those are ingrained habits. You feel weird not doing them.
Similar to our personal habits, business intelligence teams also need habits that keep their data and solutions healthy over the short and long term. We typically call those “processes.” I call them habits because a habit should be something we do naturally, not something overly bureaucratic.
It is your job as a manager to build these habits in your team. It is good to include your team in the designing of these processes, but it’s your organizational authority which makes them more likely to be followed, so this is not something you can delegate.
There’s a lot of variation on the right flow of habits and it can depend on your organization, but it typically boils down to something like the following:
Most people spend too much time in development and not enough time in planning or quality checking. It is your job to change those into habits. If you do, your operation will improve immensely.
And believe it or not, your employees will thank you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that anyone who works in data loves processes. Almost a little too much. If you ever start asking a business intelligence team their thoughts on processes, their eyes will light up and they’ll talk your head off about what they think it should and should not be.
Data Quality and the Manager's Role
If I started a consulting business whose main purpose was to measure the strength of managers on business intelligence teams, I know exactly where I would start. I’d pry open their database and measure the quality of the data (this usually requires statistical analysis). If the data quality is poor, then management is failing. If the data quality is good, management is succeeding.
What causes data quality issues?
In short, data by its very nature has quality issues. As your operation scales, so does complexity, which is where data quality issues come from. Every new modification, solution, or process put in place involves a human interacting with a system. Those human errors compound on one another over time.
Why is data quality such a good indicator of a manager's performance?
Data quality is a reflection of an organization's health because poor data quality stems from poor data flow. If data isn’t flowing the way it should, it means your team doesn’t have the proper habits. As I said in the last section, building habits is ultimately your job.
How can a manager prevent data quality issues?
You’ll never be able to prevent all of them. However, instilling good team habits in regards to project planning and quality checking will significantly reduce them. Also, reducing the human involvement in business intelligence by prioritizing automation will reduce data quality issues.
Shouldn’t my team do that on their own?
Yes and no. There are three reasons why they won’t do it, even if they know they should. The first is they don’t want to bother co-workers with a time consuming 2-3 hour task to check their work. If that’s not a regular habit, it feels like a burdensome request. The second is that the person they are asking to quality check their work may not have the time allocated in their schedule to check it, because it’s not a defined process. The third is that people are often afraid to miss deadlines. If a project is due on Friday and an employee finally finishes it at 4:00pm that day, they may rather risk sending that project to the stakeholder with bugs than risk upsetting them with a delay.
As you know from Taylor Rodgers’ Pyramid of BI Success, the stakeholder cares more about data and report quality than timely delivery. You should do your best to deliver things on time, but if you had to choose between quality checking and missing a deadline over on-time delivery and not quality checking to meet that deadline, then choose quality checking.
Providing Executive Level Support
Corporations have a lot of politics. Who would’ve thunk it? Quite often, other individuals or departments won’t have the same level of respect for your developers as they would you. Some directors or executives think they should only collaborate with other directors or executives. Other department team members may not take process changes to support BI solutions seriously unless they hear it from you or their boss.
You should give your team the room to build out solid solutions on their own, but make sure they include you when it starts to include other teams. It doesn’t have to be a large involvement. Sometimes it’s just you sitting in a room, offering reassurances to other teams that you are in agreement with your team member’s proposed solution.
Giving Your Team the Freedom to Exercise Their Craft
Becoming a manager means gaining power and prestige in the workplace. That comes at the expense of the freedom to exercise more creativity and control over day-to-day output. For many talented employees, the freedom to exercise more creativity is the reason they actively decline promotions (and I say God bless them!)
Those talented employees have many career opportunities outside your team. Micromanaging the code they write or the report they design will ruin the enthusiasm they have working for your company and it ruins the true emotional benefit they have for their job. They’ll leave you once that happens.
Because of that, it is best to give them freedom to exercise their craft. Here are the only “rules” you need to put in place:
Outside of that, let them have the freedom you would want.
Is That Really All There Is to Managing a BI Team?
Nope! This is just a preview. There's more – lots, lots more! I'm writing a book on the topic, but it's currently in the research stage. In the meantime, check out my blog for more resources. You won't be disappointed!