The Secrets to Managing Business Analytics Projects

Managers have used Business Analytics (BA) – which is a subset of business intelligence (BI) – to inform their decision making for years. Recent studies point to its growing importance, not only in analyzing past performance but also in identifying opportunities to improve future performance. As business environments become more complex and competitive, managers need to be able to detect – or, even better – predict trends and respond to them early. Companies are giving business analytics increasingly high priority in hopes of gaining an edge on their competitors.

A Special Breed of Project Manager

However, because BA projects are often characterized by uncertain or changing requirements and a high implementation risk, it takes a special breed of project manager to execute and deliver them. So, how do experienced business analytics project managers approach their projects? Which best practices do they employ, and how would they advise their less experienced peers?

The authors set out to identify and examine what characterizes experienced, skillful project managers involved in BA projects. They found that these project managers’ most important qualities can be sorted into 5 areas. Thus, skilled BA project managers:

1. Have a delivery orientation and a bias towards execution. They start with the assumption that the initial plan will have to change as the project progresses. Therefore, they focus on project execution and the delivery of value, rather than on strict adherence to the plan.

2. See value in use and value of learning. They adapt project execution to the nature of the project. Iterative development encourages and enables a culture of learning and helps optimise value in use.

3. Work to gain commitment by enabling a process of engaging stakeholders, explaining and managing expectations. To avoid implementing ‘black boxes’, they engage stakeholders as early as possible and throughout the project, set the right expectations from the start and manage them throughout.

4. Rely on intelligent experimentation. They experiment whenever possible, and when experimenting, adopt a pragmatic approach. That is, they apply sufficient scientific rigour to each step without losing focus on practical relevance and usability.

5. Promote smart use of information technology. BA projects are business projects, but these project managers look for ways to involve IT. Projects conducted as partnerships yield better results.

Three Mini-Cases 

This study is also supported by 3 cases:

  • Volvo – coaching to ensure user engagement. Good project managers can communicate with all stakeholders and set the right expectations from the start. They’re also good at bridging business and IT.
  • Delhaize – gathering the right data correctly. Executing BA projects has much in common with scientific research and experimentation.
  • P&V – IT and business working as partners. The most appropriate way to approach BI (and BA) projects is as a partnership between business and IT. The business depends on business information – and IT is an enabler in this domain.

The authors wish to thank SAS and Enqio for their generous support. Stijn Viaene holds the Deloitte Chair 'Bringing IT to Board Level'

Related article

Stijn Viaene & Annabel Van den Bunder, MIT Sloan Management Review (53, 1, 65-69)(http://sloanreview.mit.edu/x/53113)

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& Rankings

Equis Association of MBAs AACSB Financial Times Economist Intelligence Unit