Saturday, 11 January 2014

5 tips for running a technical team

I've worked with a lot of B.I. managers, and have also managed a business intelligence team myself. I have seen many varied leadership styles that have worked well. But there are some cardinal rules that could make your life much easier - and here they are:

1. Don't micro manage
Although your team is heavily analytical and technical, there is a very large part of the development process that is truly creative. If you stifle them with endless detail, they will feel heavily restricted. Set high level rules, and let your team take care of the detail.

2. Give them the right tools to do the job.
It is sometimes hard for laymen to understand the complex variety of tools that are available. When your technical team want a new tool, they usually have a clear reason why it is useful. But a non technical person, can fall into the trap of narrow thinking (i.e. if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem starts looking like a nail.) Beg, borrow, cajole, steal... to get the latest technical equipment. Your team will be grateful.

3. Protect them from office politics
Analytical people tend to be intelligent, rational introverts. An introvert does not shy away from social interaction, rather they expel a lot of personal energy - much more than extroverts, who get their energy from such interactions. So office politics can be particularly draining for them. If you can't shield them from negative work influences, they can find things difficult.

4. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork
Many may well give off "leave me alone" vibes, but they will also want to feel valued as part of a cohesive a team. Don't let them get silo'd. Give them opportunities to work together and make the experience as positive as possible.

5. Listen without interrupting or being judgemental
Right out of management 101... make sure you listen to them - particularly if they are having problems developing a solution. Perhaps there isn't a solution to the problem. Just listen. A problem shared... Be that strong shoulder. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

5 traits that make us all bad analysts

Humans are not good analysts. We have learned behaviours that were successful in bygone eras. But in this modern information age,  there are too many analytical short-cuts that we take each day. So here are the top 5 human traits (listed by me) that make us all bad analysts.

1.   We surround ourselves with people who agree with us
It is human nature to prefer people who think like ourselves, or share our beliefs. Ergo, we reject valuable insight from people who may have valid opinions and important alternative points of view. The technical term is confirmation bias. It's one of the reasons for the credit crunch - unsustainable cultures grow when you have too many people doing the same thing without anyone to challenge them. We are also more likely to believe information if it supports our beliefs - no matter how wrong it can be.

2.  We are useless at predicting odds
Ever heard of the gambler who hasn't won a single bet all night, so he crazily puts an enormous sum of money on one random outcome, because he's due a win. Big mistake. The odds of failure remain the same, regardless how often the game is played. This is particularly true when it comes to interpreting results of measurement. Somehow, the data has to be different, because all of the other results went the other way, so we must be due a change. Wrong!!

3.  We rationalise our mistakes
So we've spent a couple of million on a project, and now the results are coming in, it is clear that the decision to instigate it was wrong. Yet the people who made the decision are pushing the project onward, despite everyone telling them it is a waste of time. Psychologists say this is due to 'the principle of commitment' - a deeply held belief that we should always be consistent and avoid cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a big one on it's own. It is the unease that we feel when we are trying to hold on to two conflicting theories. Many people will walk through fire to avoid feeling it and admit that they were wrong.

4.  Memory is more powerful than fact
Our memories - unreliable as they are - have a powerful effect on our beliefs. In fact, when presented with contrary true facts, we are still more inclined to prefer the comfort of our memories.

5.  We make decisions based on comparisons
Although this sounds like common sense, it can be incredibly wrong. For instance, a man may buy a coat for £1,000, because it was cheaper than all the other coats in the shop. Yet if he truly looked at the value for money of that coat, he would realise that it is too expensive. This is called 'the anchoring effect', because it is a tendency to focus on a particular value of one option and compare it to other options, rather than all of the values of each option.

To understand our human weaknesses is to be truly strong. For when we know how fallible we could be, we can structure our decision-making processes to make sure we are not slipping into our natural, human analytical short cuts.