On the 9th of February this year a fairly representative group of Wellington-based analytics professionals got together for the Annual SUNZ (SAS Users of New Zealand) Conference at Te Papa.
Prior to attending the conference and having pored over the schedule, I was most excited to attend three sessions: first, and because I’m a good Kiwi chick, was the Key Note presentation from NZ Rugby’s Performance Analysis Manager (Jason Healy). The second was the presentation by Jeremy Scrivens (Futurist) on Analytics and Human Systems. Thirdly, Kiwibank’s Analytics Manager (Joe Robins) with a presentation called Sharing Your Analytics Journey.
However, nearly one month on there is one idea that remains with me, a theme that recurred through the day. That theme is; “the Process is more important than the Outcome”.
For those of us who attended management training through the 90’s and early 00’s this is a turnaround. It’s not an unwelcome turnaround and it shows that the industry, and most importantly the industry managers, have changed their point of reference.
Jason Healy, NZ Rugby Performance Analysis Manager, who had been fortunate enough to travel with the All Blacks to last year’s Rugby World Cup shared his experiences with providing analytics on players, formation and game flow. This information was respected by the decision makers with the team. It was used to form strategies when things were not going well and was used for confirmation when things were going well. This is my ideal situation, analytics should be the insurance policy that is most useful when things are not going well and analysis can be used to refine policies and strategies. Then when things are going well analytics are there to confirm the decision makers view.
Jason emphasised that the team management stuck to their process and used analytics to check that the process was producing results … they focused on the process and relied on the process producing results rather than aiming straight for the desired result and to hell with the consequences. Nice work.
Stephen Clarke, the Information Manager at Transpower, gave what I considered was my favourite presentation of the day
“The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Heard: The Pachyderm Philosophy”. This could be because the presentation “catch” was a modified reference to my favourite fable – the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Each Blind man created their own reality based on the aspect of the elephant they held. Stephen restructured the fable to align with how different sections of an organisation can view their infrastructure. Inspired. Stephen proceeded to discuss how to get a more holistic view given each section of an organisation will firmly hold their view. Stephen also used a wonderful cake analogy … rather than completely steal his presentation I recommend that if you are given the opportunity you can ask Stephen to repeat his presentation.
Along with the strong visual representation of business problems in simple terms, I took Stephens message to be that the process you use within the organisation to gain this holistic view is more important than the outcome. If you focus on the process the end result will be stronger than if you enforce the desired outcome. Powerful.
Lastly, I had a great appreciation for the presentation from Jan Sheppard, Manager of Business Information Services at TEC. Jan’s presentation was called “Building the Plane in the Air”. This is an analogy of the art of implementing change in a team of analysts who need to get on with their day jobs while also moving to modern technologies and ideas. I’ve managed a team in a similar situation and hold an appreciation for the delicate balance of this management situation. This holds special poignancy in a ministry where the passions of the senior managers and politicians can quickly and dramatically change.
Jan showed passion for her desired result. However, she also expressed her realisation that this result will not be reached if the team don’t systematically follow their process – which in turn can be restarted at any time once other priorities are addressed.
The day was beneficial for me, I thank these three presenters for their insights and the entertainment of their presentations. I look forward to next years conference and a new series of insights.
*Apologies to George RR Martin for appropriating his quote “I’m alive, and drunk on sunlight” from A Storm of Swords.