What’s more valuable: Listening to your Spidey Senses or your Statistics?


I had a business school professor that said you had to be careful with statistics because it was like driving using the rearview mirror.  I’m reminded of that because one of the major things I’ve spent the last couple weeks working on is some financial projections and trying to build out a business case.  This work has primarily been centered on school safety. So we’ve looked at things like what is the overall size of people involved? Well it turns out there’s:

  • 77 million Americans that are involved in education in some way
  • There are about 100,000 K-12 public schools
  • There are roughly 6,000 colleges and universities
  • Finally there are around 35,000 private schools

Along with those statistics there are obviously demographic build outs and parent teacher association involvement.  Turns out that’s one of the areas where there’s still a strong showing.  85% of the people surveyed said that they had attended or participated in a PTA meeting in the last year.  This means that either that’s an area where we’re very strong as  a country or people feel bad saying that they didn’t go so they over reported saying they did go.

There’s also a lot of statistics around crime. For example, 27% of teachers in the District of Columbia in 2010 reported they had been threated or physically attacked at school. Also a student is more likely to be victimized in school than out of school. Now on some level that makes since given the amount of time that a student spends in school vs. outside of school and what types of settings those are but it’s also a little bit scary. It’s one of the things that we’ve been focused on trying to develop technology solutions for, going on the better part of two years now.  So it’s interesting as you look at all that and you try to draw meaning from it. You think about how you might work to change some of those statistics especially around the prevalence of crime and safety issues in schools. You think about what are the contributing factors and how can private industry engage to support better education environments.

Now as you try to build out a financial model that allows you to stay in business while also providing this socially redeeming service and encourage people to invest in the model based on financial projections; it makes me think of other times where I’ve been at something like this. Times where we’ve done a business case for a technology investment or for even looking at a large IT portfolio for a private sector or public sector organization.  You’re trying to build out a business case again based on different statistics and your understanding of the organizations ability to handle change. You’re looking at what types of numbers are out there for people who have tried to do similar things and all of it amounts to essentially a lot of guesswork, educated guesswork, but still guesswork.  The actual implementation and reality are almost always starkly different from what you originally thought. So I don’t say all that to discount doing the activity because I believe to this day that it’s one of the most valuable things that you can do as you look to build out even a small project. I believe it is vital to try to build out financial models, business cases, and return on investment because it forces you to think about things that you would otherwise take on gut feel.

So whether or not things go according to your projection down the road, I think you’re much more prepared to handle the twists and turns that are to come by virtue of having really thought through the data that is available. You learn a lot by forcing yourself to wade through things where other people have gone out and attempted similar things and succeeded or failed. You have the chance to think about what are the lessons learned from those previous success and failures. I think that for most organizations, and even in entrepreneurial pursuits, there’s huge value in doing a business case.  Also when talking about the case that I’m working on right now there’s huge value to be found in working  the financial forecast for a new venture because it forces you to step through that project piece by piece.

So I’m curious what other people think. Do you run through those types of processes around the projects that your organization is attempting to do and how often do people go to the numbers to back an argument vs. just using gut feeling?  Now I don’t say that with a strong feeling one way or the other because I believe that the best way to approach it is to have the numbers but not to discount gut feel. Particularly if you’ve been at it a long time, there’s almost a spider sense that develops about certain projects that gives you a hint to where things might be going that maybe the numbers don’t tell you. At the same time I’m also a big believer in having those numbers available because they can provide great cues to action that otherwise you may ignore. They also may point out areas where you need to stay focused on as you progress through a project to make sure that you don’t fall into a trap that could have easily been avoided had you taken the time to take a look at the data that is out there.  So again I’m very curious to know what other people’s experiences have been and how they balance gut feel vs. projections and spreadsheets and what they believe is valuable in terms of business case.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

5 skill areas needed to transform your organization

Don’t miss the mark, develop the right skills

Change happens every day both inside the organization and outside the organization. I’ve talked quite a bit about the fact that I believe this change is happening at a faster pace than we have ever seen and that this is driving high performing organizations to look for ways to develop organizational transformation capabilities. As someone who has spent a lot of time talking to the stakeholders within organizations, I have seen a lot of soul searching around what it really takes to pull off organizational transformation. Enabling an organization to regularly be able to move from a current state to some future state that is better suited to meet evolving stakeholder requirements, changing compliance criteria, disruptive technologies and other forces that drive the need for organizational change is tough stuff.

I believe that there are really five key areas that organizations should be focused on developing in order to deliver a truly world class ability to enable change:

Leadership: I fall firmly in the camp of folks that believe leadership skills can be developed and that focusing on this area of development can pay real dividends for organizations that are willing to invest in it. I also do not believe that leadership skills are something that an organization should only focus on at the executive level. The fact is that as organizations become flatter and more agile leadership skills have become more important than ever even at much lower levels of the organization than have previously been focused on. This also ensures that people who are thrust into leadership roles have some skills when that occurs and aren’t learning on the fly (and failing) until they figure it out.

Transformational methodology: If you buy into the fact that understanding and executing on change within the organization should be a primary capability, then you will need to find something that can function as a repeatable process focused on helping you identify areas that require change and then execute that change. Properly executed enterprise architecture should fulfill this role. Focused on understanding the strategic direction, resources, processes, assets and operating environment of the organization this function should rightly be the focus of managing the information driving change and providing real input into both planning for change and executing on it.

Risk: More change means more risk. Organizations are almost always focused on the simple execution of change and not on the implications with regard to risk for the business. Rapidly implementing an online application may help you shave costs, meet customer requirements, or improve productivity. It may also introduce risks that need to be mitigated. Risk management skills need to be embedded within your transformation team in order to ensure that someone is thinking about the dark side of transformation.

Security: See risk. Change always has security implications. The downside of your new found agility means having more discussions around the security implications of that change and so having skills in this area are critical for transformation teams. Leaving security out as an afterthought means inviting last minute changes of the worst kind. Find out up front what the implications of your actions are for security and you may be able to tailor your solution more easily in the early stages or even alter the scope to ensure your solution is viable.

Personal Productivity: You may be surprised to see this on the list, but I think it is a major oversight to think that everyone is functioning at the same high level with regard to organizational, presentation, speaking, writing, negotiation and other critical core skills. None of the rest of your transformation team’s domain expertise matters if their insights cannot be communicated to the outside world. I have often heard the counter argument that “we” don’t hire people without those core skills. I’m sure that is the intent but usually when someone is being recruited as a java developer, accountant, or other functional area specialist at the beginning of their career the focus is on their domain expertise. This stays the same through much of an individual’s career with advancement mostly tied to domain expertise – not these skills. When thrust into senior roles where these skills are required because getting the job done requires the ability to get others to see their point of view, etc. they fail. Do not make this mistake when you begin working to develop your transformation team.


In this I have tried to lay out some core areas of focus as you work to develop your transformational capabilities. I’ve tried to stay at a fairly high level, while still providing some insight into the types of backgrounds you may want for folks on your team as well as areas where you may want to focus on as you pursue your organizational development objectives. The above is not meant to be an all-inclusive list and in fact I invite your feedback. What have you done to prepare your organization for change?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.