Category Archives: Business

How To Do Well in Your Next Job Interview

Recently I read an editorial about job interviews. It was breezy and funny, but not very helpful. Given that millions are out there looking for work, I want to help by giving my perspective on how to “win” the interview.

I do a lot of interviewing, from both sides of the desk. As a consultant I am interviewed by clients. As one of many technical and behavioral interviewers for my employer, I talk with candidates about their skills, goals, and fit with our business.

Of course, winning the interview may not get you the job. An interview is just one part of a many step process. Getting a job involves showing you have the skills, establishing mutual fit, coming to terms on salary, and standing out versus the competition. This post is only about how to do well in the interview.

Assuming you’re qualified for the job, you can set up a good interview experience by applying the right mental model, preparing well, and interacting effectively during the conversation. Continue reading

Data Governance Begins At the Spreadsheet

Data management professionals have long and sometimes rather Quixotically driven organizations to “get past the spreadsheet culture.” Maybe that’s misguided. The recent furor over a widely read social science paper may show how we can look to scientific peer review for a way to govern data, spreadsheets and all.Spreadsheet

Recently, it was found that a key study underpinning debt-reduction as a driver of economic growth based its conclusions on a flawed spreadsheet. As this ArsTechnica article describes, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s Growth in a Time of Debt seemingly proved a connection between “high levels of debt and negative average economic growth”. But, per a recent study by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin, it turns out that the study’s conclusions drew from a Microsoft Excel formula mistake, questionable data exclusions, and non-standard weightings of base data. The ArsTechnica piece finds those conclusions fade to a more ambiguous outcome with errors and apparent biases corrected. Continue reading

Followership IV: How to criticize your boss

ObamaAndMcChrystalThis is the latest entry in an occasional series on followership. The premise, as stated here, is that not everyone gets to be a leader, and most leaders are also followers in their own right. The project manager follows instructions from the project sponsor, the CEO from the board, the politicians from the polls, and so on. Whoever you are, you spend a lot more time following than leading. As Bob Dylan put it so well, “you gotta serve somebody.”

The good follower is not a “yes man“. In the professional world I inhabit those who move “up” the hierarchy tend to retire technical skills in favor of architecture, proposal writing, and management. The relationship of manager to employee becomes more like agent to actor or musician, where the supervised employee is the “talent”.

In these conditions the old concept of top-down decision making seems quaint. Important choices require information from all perspectives, and organizations shut out those with knowledge of the details at their peril. The best decision makers search out diverse ideas before choosing a direction. Continue reading

No silver business intelligence bullets, but still a bright upside

When Tom Petty sang, “Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out” he wasn’t referring to business intelligence (BI) reporting but he might have been. Current generation reporting engines, AKA data visualization or data discovery tools, market their products with statements like these, emphasizing quick development and ease of use:

  • “The democratization of data is here. In minutes, create an interactive viz (sic) and embed it in your website. Anyone can do it— and it’s free.” (Tableau Products Page)
  • “Easy yet sophisticated report design empowers your employees to design professional and telling reports in minutes not days” (Windward)

I like these tools, and I do believe that they can provide a leaner, more productive, and more informative approach to BI reporting than some more mature products.  However, none is a silver bullet for all data integration and reporting woes. Continue reading

Learning to learn

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five!”

– Groucho Marx

Recently my colleague Sara Shelton posted an article listing non-technical things we IT specialists need to do to maintain our careers. Each of the nine items on Sara’s list is a key to IT professional success. One particularly worthy of a drill down was learning:

“It is critical for the technical professional to hold themselves accountable…to learn new languages, new tools, emerging technical trends, and best practices.  With technologies changing more than ever, technical professionals need to focus on their own learning to stay on par with or ahead of the curve.” Continue reading

Abstracting and recombining all the way to the bank

In the past I’ve never understood what people really mean they say “think outside the box” but Jim Harris, in a recent OCDQ blog post, helped me figure it out.

Mr. Harris ends with this provocative line: “the bottom line is Google and Facebook have socialized data in order to capitalize data as a true corporate asset.”  The post starts with a cold war analogy and proceeds to describe how Facebook and Google have made big money as “internet advertising agencies:” offering free services with which users (like us) serve up personal data in return for use of the service, then selling advertising space based on our data (hopefully anonymized).

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But is it art? Skills of the next generation BI professional

There’s a data explosion going on and perhaps the strangest result is that business intelligence analysts need to become more artistic.

Recently my friend Ben Harden directed my attention to a post from Steve Bennett of Oz Analytics on the future of BI. One challenge to analysts that Mr. Bennett cited was the unprecedented explosion in data quantity to “an almost inconceivable 35 trillion gigabytes” by 2020.  Part of the solution, according to the post, is “actionable insight”, as illustrated by Harry Beck when he created the now-iconic map of the London underground network from the previous rather spaghetti-ish version.  What Mr. Beck did was to distinguish significant from insignificant detail for the intended audience and present that detail in a clear and appealing way.

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Building a writing culture in application development

One of the key skills needed in today’s IT shop is communication, and one of the best ways to improve ability to communicate is to write blog posts and articles.

In spite of “IT guy” stereotypes, communication and analytical thinking about business are among the most important skills in application development. Developers, analysts, and managers require ability to interact effectively with business people, to conceptualize solutions that match business needs, critically evaluate those solutions, and effectively make the case for one of them. Of course this is true of the overall project business case, but more importantly it applies to the daily “IT guy” to business person conversations that happen throughout analysis, design, development, and testing. Continue reading

The Grateful Dead as strategic managers

The March 2010 issue of The Atlantic features an article called “Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead.” It’s a great read, especially the second half, which tells of the band’s innovations in organization, fan loyalty, and, perhaps counterintuitively, creating value by freely giving away their product. The success of these measures seems self evident: the Dead were “one of the most profitable bands of all time” and almost singlehandedly created an entire product category, jam bands. As a result, the article recounts, the Dead are replacing companies like Southwest Airlines and GE as management training examples of strategic innovators.

As good as it is, to me the article conjured an unlikely vision of the Dead as business men in hippie drag self-consciously making strategy decisions that altered the marketing landscape. I agree that the Dead took the actions cited on purpose, but I believe core product, not marketing strategy, consumed the band’s energies during its formative and peak years.   Could it be that their innovative market strategies grew organically from a quality product, where quality included the entire fan experience? Continue reading