Analytics Programs: Why They Fail, and How to Succeed


Each conference I attend seems to take on a theme. I attribute some of it to the talks I present and how that inspires others to ask me questions about the topic. At the most recent SAS Analytics Experience event, I presented a table talk about what causes analytics programs to fail. [editor's note: SAS is the sponsor of this website.] Generally, when an analytics program starts to fail, part of the problem centers around the leadership team, but the culture can also contribute to the failure.

Is Resistance Rewarded?

Usually the main factor is leadership team. You might think that if we all agree in a meeting on a strategy, what else is there to do but implement and get on with work? One of my former colleagues tells a very funny story about how she met her husband. Back in the 1970s, her acting vice president wanted a project from another department stopped. For over six months she was on a secret assignment! She used several maneuvers, such as questioning each decision, dragging her feet on tasks, and so on, to inhibit progress. Eventually the project did fail. She attributed it to a poor concept rather than her ingenious strategies. But her second happy ending was that a fellow team member found her thoroughness so attractive he married her!

I had forgotten about this story until I was talking to an older gentleman at the conference. Years before, he was leading an effort to turn the company into a data-driven entity. He shook his head noting the entire experience was full of political land mines and sometimes meetings were nothing short of trench warfare. Some members of the leadership team did not fully support the program and worked to undermine him. The eventual resolution was that those leaders either left the company or were asked to leave. The analytics program could move forward and is successful today. (It's not clear if anyone met their mate.)

(Image: Becky Stares/Shutterstock)

(Image: Becky Stares/Shutterstock)

Change is Hard for Organizations

It's not always clear why resistance occurs. In the above scenario, it could have been the culture pushing back on the change. Perhaps the leaders had spent several years building an empire and felt the change threatened their positions or livelihood. Maybe the leaders trust their actual life experience more than what the numbers report. Perhaps they think money on analytics programs could be better spent elsewhere.

Maybe the organizational culture is not able to change easily. This Forbes article notes that 45% of employees generally prefer the status quo. How do you encourage an organization to move forward when half of them like the way things are? Another gentleman at the conference said he believed the resistance to analytics may come from the poor understanding of statistics or how analytics helps organizations. Sometimes people don't like to admit a lack of knowledge. Certainly, statistics has a reputation for being difficult to understand and even being accused of being damned lies on occasion. What may be apparent to some, is mysterious to others. He suggested training to assist with level-setting for the leadership team.

What's clear to me is that change requires carefully planning. Each organization is different. Some can more readily adopt to change while others require years to change. Teams must be prepared to deal with resistance in its many forms to help the organization move forward.

Do you have a story about a failed or even successful change in an organization?

Tricia Aanderud, Senior SAS Consultant for Zencos

Tricia Aanderud, Director, Data Visualization Practice at Zencos Consulting, provides SAS Consulting services to organizations that need assistance understanding how to transform their data into meaningful reports and dashboards. She has co-authored three books with her most recent title "Introduction to SAS Visual Analytics". She regularly shares data visualization tips and SAS knowledge through her BI Notes blog (http://www.bi-notes.com). Tricia has a background in technical writing, process engineering, and customer service. She has been an enthusiastic SAS user since 2002 and has presented papers at the SAS Global Forum and other industry conferences.

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Re: Changes
  • 10/22/2017 11:37:11 AM
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It probably does take a mixture of personality type to make a success. Not only those who forge ahead "with their head down" but also the few it takes to be a bit more visible, shaking up the staus quo, and perhaps persuading some to take some chances even when the outcome is not necessarily guaranteed.

Re: Changes
  • 10/21/2017 3:45:47 PM
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@Broadway0: Reminds me of the fatal final play for the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. A big part of that was the Seahawks' failure to play it safe and reasonable...but some have made the case that it was a credit to the skills of the rookie who made the interception, Malcolm Butler, just as much (if not more) than a testament to the failures of the Seahawks because of his positioning.

Speaking of which, I did a writeup for All Analytics sister site InformationWeek where I made NFL-cybersecurity analogies, holding up Super Bowl XLIX as an example, here: informationweek.com/it-life/3-cyber-security-lessons-from-super-bowl-xlix/a/d-id/1318899

Re: Yes vs. How
  • 10/21/2017 3:40:54 PM
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@Tricia: Siri sometimes knows, but the problem is she often doesn't understand.

At least she knows some Queen lyrics...*

(*Tell Siri "I see a little silhouetto of a man.")

Re: Changes
  • 10/18/2017 11:19:59 PM
NO RATINGS

@joe, perhaps the analogy for cyber security is a sports one: offensive linemen in the NFL. They generally are the yeoman. They protect the QB, the team's most precious asset, and they only get mentioned when they fail --- when they cheat to win (holding, tripping) or fail (their QB gets crushed). The most successful are the ones who rarely get lauded during the actual game. So perhaps those really successful in cyber are the ones we don't hear about because they're keeping their heads down and their companies protected.

Re: Changes
  • 10/18/2017 8:39:09 AM
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And probably another aspect of moving forward in the face resistance to change is the ability of management to "listen" well to those in their departments, so as to see what they are feeling and in their own particular cases of why they feel that resistance to move forward, either not quite understanding the what and whys, or just a lack of technical knowlege, as eamples of some of the factors that may lead to failure in program changes.

Re: Yes vs. How
  • 10/16/2017 7:30:35 PM
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Agreed ... I think a lot more about what I ask Siri.  

My husband says "Don't ask Siri - she never knows."

Re: Changes
  • 10/16/2017 7:24:03 PM
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Good efforts from your friend. It's hard not to take some things personal or assume it's just a case of "trench warfare" tactics.

Re: Changes
  • 10/16/2017 7:12:52 PM
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(X) Like

Re: Changes
  • 10/16/2017 9:18:11 AM
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That is a great example of what can happen when employee concerns are taken into account. Pushing forward in spite of opposition is clearly not the best way to manage change.

Re: Changes
  • 10/16/2017 6:22:23 AM
NO RATINGS

@tomsg: This was precisely the point of a talk I attended at a recent cybersecurity conference. The speaker was emphatic that those who have been deemed "successful" in cybersecurity haven't failed their way forward enough -- and thus risk being disasters waiting to happen.

Separately, a good case in point that came to my mind was the (now former) CEO of Equifax, who had been recognized as the "Most Admired CEO" in the Atlanta area shortly before news of the major Equifax breach.

Incidentally, I did a writeup of that speaker's talk, and related subjects, here: securitynow.com/author.asp?section_id=613&doc_id=737227&

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