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Data Assessments that Work & Why They Succeed or Fail

Data assessment success failure

Many data architects have, in one capacity or another, been involved in numerous assessment projects throughout their careers. While working as an enterprise data architect for a midsize insurance company, I was either the internal lead on or a participant in dozens of projects. Some projects were quite successful and translated into positive momentum toward making major and much-needed improvements for the organization. Other projects were not as successful. With a few years of experience under my belt, I now act as an external consultant, leading assessments and bringing a new perspective to a company to ensure success.

What differentiates the success or failure of an assessment? There are a few recurring themes:

  • Engaging the right external resources.

  • Alignment with enterprise strategy. 

  • Clear and reasonable goals. 

  • Stakeholder buy-in.

  • Timing. 

Engaging the right external resources

The importance of choosing the best external partner for an assessment shouldn't be underestimated. Not only is it key to ensure the company has the skills necessary to conduct the assessment, but people hiring the additional help need to be sure the firm’s individual consultants are fully qualified. In many cases, the institutional knowledge of the consulting company is valuable, but it is never more important than the quality of the actual people who will work on the project. 

Additionally, organizations want to have clear goals that are synchronized with those of the consulting company. Is it truly in the consulting company’s best interest to give an organization advice and recommend improvements? Or is the consulting company motivated by the desire for new business or to sell products? 

Alignment to enterprise strategy

All aspects in an assessment need to flow out of its overall purpose, which must be directly related to what the organization is trying to accomplish. Without this understanding, it is impossible to properly identify all the stakeholders and participants or define the deliverables and outcomes. Don't use an assessment to delay making business strategy decisions. 

Clear and reasonable goals

Assessments must have clear, concise and achievable goals. Often, it is part of an assessment to identify what the detailed goals of a particular area ought to be, so establishing goals for an assessment is one of the meta challenges. Goals should be defined in terms of what documents and presentations will be delivered and what knowledge will be gained by the stakeholders from these deliverables.

Stakeholder buy-in

If the people who will work on the assessment and those who will receive the deliverables aren't truly committed to the purpose and approach of the project, it won't end up being successful. It should not be within the scope of the assessment itself to achieve the required level of support. That is a management challenge that must be dealt with when the effort is being scoped and approved for funding.

Timing

Perhaps the trickiest ingredient in the recipe for assessment success is getting the timing right. If it is done too soon, the organization will not be in a position to act on the advice, deliverables will get stale before they can be properly implemented, and it may overlook critical information or be delivered haphazardly. If it is done too late, then it will be too late for the results to influence upcoming key projects, the execution timeline will take too long, and stakeholders will lose interest and disengage. 

Getting the timing right requires a close working relationship between the consultants and the internal team, and alignment with all the stakeholders and projects that are dependent on the results of the assessment.

When proceeding with assessments, clearly outline an organization’s goals, timeline and strategy. If done correctly, assessments are often a valuable asset for a company. But organizations must remember assessments themselves don't add business value — they help determine how to best create business value. Resources spent assessing can't be spent implementing improvements. Spend wisely.

Aaron Fuller

Aaron Fuller is the principal and owner of Superior Data Strategies LLC. Located in Lansing, Michigan, Superior Data Strategies focuses on data warehousing, dimensional data marts, operational data stores,...

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