I would like to share some thoughts on what it takes for an organization to use analytics to gain competitive advantage.  As is typically the case for me, I like to find inspiration from ideas outside of the space and will use some of the thinking on lean start-ups from Eric Ries and Steve Blank for this post.

Lesson #1 – Think like a start-up.  Think like a start-up and put enough thought into what you are trying to achieve and what your customers will “buy” then get started.  Pick areas of the business where you have decent data and the results of the analytics will have a big impact on the organization.  Just as an entrepreneur should not waste time on a detailed business plan you should not waste time on a detailed roadmap.  Sketch it out then get moving.

Lesson #2 – Focus on speed through the loop.  Move quickly through the loop.  Once you pick an area of initial focus start building the “minimum viable product” (an application with the least amount of functionality and complexity to get your customers going).  Treat your internal customers like real paying customers and deliver enough of what they need to find the MVP useful but looking for more.  Minimize total time through the loop and repeat.

Lesson #3 – Measure and learn and be willing to change.  Listen to your customers and measure their behavior.  You may have created beautiful dashboards with lots of interesting data but if people are not using them then your effort is wasted.  Think like a software product manager and pay attention to what is going to make your application viral.  You want people to use the applications so be willing to change to make this happen.

Lesson #4 – Don’t over invest until you know what you are investing in.  Don’t make the classic mistake and start by building more infrastructure than you need.  Scale the infrastructure to meet the needs of your analytics program.  Creating a global sales analytics application is very different than creating a data “playground” for your analysts at the home office.  Invest according to need.

So take a cue from many of the hot start-ups when thinking about your analytics program and Be Lean!

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