The Analytics Carnival
Ever notice how the personalities and dispositions of circus and carnival performers often resemble co-workers in an organization? They come in all shapes and sizes. An organization’s pursuit of adopting business analytics and analytics-based enterprise performance management (EPM) methodologies also involves personalities of all types. How are they like people in a circus and carnival? Here is a list of analogous types of employees that you might recognize in the “big top” and side shows where you work.
- Clowns – These performers are not only fun, they play an important role. They distract everyone’s attention while the real work is taking place. Who is your Emmett Kelly?
- Barkers – “Step right in and enjoy the show. Come one, come all.” Barkers are the promoters. They get people excited about what is coming. They educate other employees or at least provide them with a vision about the uses of analytics and EPM. “See the bearded lady and the snake with two heads!”
- Tightrope walkers – These performers make everyone nervous. Will they miraculously finish their act and get to the other side of the tightrope? If they fail, it is a disaster. They are like analysts with a deadline. They do lots of tricks during their project or pursuit of insights from analytics. They typically act alone.
- Trapeze artists – These performers are like tightrope walkers. Everyone is nervous when they are performing, and they also do lots of tricks. In contrast to tightrope walkers, trapeze artists perform as a team. Their lives depend on perfect collaboration with each other. Managers, employees, analysts and the information technology (IT) function are no different. There is no “I” in team.
- Fortune tellers and tarot card readers – These performers are the special type of analysts who do forecasting and predictive modeling. Everyone would like to know the future with certainty. For example, when demand forecasts become reliable as an independent variable, then all the other variables (e.g., resource requirements, inventories, budgets and schedules) can be planned for. Of course, fortune tellers are making informed guesses based on clues. Forecasters without powerful software tools are doing the same.
- Lion tamers – Lion tamers are project managers and facilitators. They must deal with all sorts of uninvolved line managers, executives, bankers and government regulators, many of whom like to roar. They never know if someone might unpredictably attack with deep claws. Lion tamers do carry a whip and a gun, but they may not be enough.
- Elephant tamers – These performers are similar to lion tamers, but they have an easier job. Elephants are more docile and predictable than lions. Elephants are like managers and employee team members who are easy to control and pull the wool over their eyes. But do not cross them. Elephants never forget.
- Jugglers – These performers are project schedulers. Their expertise is the ability to focus without distraction. When things go wrong, like dropping a juggling pin, they are good at quick recoveries with little harm.
- Magicians – Be wary of this type of performer. They are experts with illusions and sleight-of-hand. Some executives love these types of employees. Those types of executives have a confirmation bias. They rely on their gut feel and intuition to make decisions. They then seek the magicians to manipulate and alter the facts to support their preconceived notions on what to do. Can you pull a rabbit out of the hat?
- The strongman – This is the performer with big muscles and a huge barbell. He can bend steel rods. They are like the analysts with skills to access big data and apply high-performance analytics. Everyone marvels at their power.
- Acrobats – These performers jump and fly through the air, but they eventually land on their feet without mishap. They are like the most skilled analysts. You might not know what they will do next, but they always finish their tricks at gleaning insights out of an organization’s growing mountains of data.
- Snack vendors – Vendors are similar to accountants and low-level staff who report data. They offer managers, users and decision makers junk food. Think useless information. It looks pretty but serves little purpose and is without nutritional value. Fortunately, accountants are shifting to serving healthier food with meaningful and relevant performance metrics and customer profitability information for analysis.
- Stiltwalkers – These performers are like employees who show up at the beginning of a project, and then you never see them again. They like to meet and greet. Some enjoy looking down on everyone.
- Janitors – Many users feel like janitors with brooms and shovels following the elephant and horse acts cleaning up the mess left behind. No project ever goes perfectly. There is always some “waste.”
- The circus parade – In the original days of the circus, on the day it came to town there was a big parade with all the performers. This is like the kick-off meeting for a project or annual sales meeting. Lots of hype, flash and dash. But the audience (users) cannot really judge from the parade if the eventual performances (the project, analysis or sales target) will be “the greatest show on earth” or a dud.
- The circus tents – This is where the information technology (IT) staff fits in. The circus tent is the infrastructure for the show. IT provides the hardware, software and data for analysts and users to access, manipulate, explore and investigate. If the tightropes, cages and props are not set up right, the performers are at risk. Similarly, if IT behaves more like obstructionists tightly owning the data, then the analysts and users are encumbered from performing their jobs.
- Ringmaster – The ringmaster is the CEO. They are dressed in the fanciest clothes – top hat and a tuxedo with coattails. They are great communicators with deep and loud voices. They love being the center of attention. They don’t do much of the real work. All the others do. But they are great organizers, set the strategic direction for an organization, and keep everyone inspired.
So, what circus and carnival employees do you work with? Probably all of the types above. The promise for the continued adoption of analytics and analytics-based enterprise performance management is that circuses have prospered dating back to Rome and its emperors.
The same prosperity applies to organizations and the analytics and EPM software systems that support them. A circus and carnival is a team with a common purpose – to entertain and, as a result, earn a living. An organization is not much different. People simply wear different clothes – and there are no animals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Cokins, CPIM
(firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 919 720 2718)
Gary Cokins is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in enterprise and corporate performance management improvement methods and business analytics. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management, an advisory firm located in Cary, North Carolina at www.garycokins.com . Gary received a BS degree with honors in Industrial Engineering/Operations Research from Cornell University in 1971. He received his MBA with honors from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 1974.
Gary began his career as a strategic planner with FMC’s Link-Belt Division and then served as Financial Controller and Operations Manager. In 1981 Gary began his management consulting career first with Deloitte consulting, and then in 1988 with KPMG consulting. In 1992 Gary headed the National Cost Management Consulting Services for Electronic Data Systems (EDS) now part of HP. From 1997 until 2013 Gary was a Principal Consultant with SAS, a leading provider of business analytics software.
His two most recent books are Performance Management: Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics, and Predictive Business Analytics. His books are published by John Wiley & Sons.