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No Data? No Problem

Got a business case staring you in the face? Intimidated by demands for "hard benefits only"? Can't find reliable data for quantifying those benefits? Here's a counterintuitive tip - turn opinions into data.

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Got a business case staring you in the face? Intimidated by demands for "hard benefits only"? Can't find reliable data for quantifying those benefits? Here's a counterintuitive tip - turn opinions into data.

Don't panic. I'm not suggesting turning lead to gold via some magical, Midas touch.  I'm advising an approach I saw used to great effect at a global ERP implementation of an industry leading manufacturer (let's call them ABC Corp.).

Their need: update a business case for reducing global inventory, in order to get buy-in from 20 sceptical country managers. 
Their challenge: current global inventory costs were unknown as the firm operates in country-based "silos".
The solution: find the one person who knew more about inventory realities than anyone in the firm and get that person to make educated guesses about global management benefits. 
That person was Jose Clemente (disguised name), previously European inventory manager and newly promoted global inventory director. Operating from a European perspective, Jose had been working with inventory at ABC for over 15 years. He had travelled to every country site to gather learnings to apply to European needs. In the process he established strong relationships with ABC's globally dispersed inventory managers.

The reality was that Jose's judgment about current inventory costs and improvement opportunities were more trusted by ABC's management than the financial statement inventory numbers pumped out monthly. Why? Because Jose knew the flaws in financial data gathering and analysis, due to having lived it himself.  He was aware that such numbers were based on differing definitions of what "inventory" consisted of across the world.  He knew about inventory counting shortfalls, ghost stockpiles and numbers of multiple inventories that were averaged, in spite of being collected at differing points in time.

Thus, when Jose presented his thoughtful "opinion" of the monetary improvement in inventory levels possible with the new ERP system -- and backed it up with rationale that make sense to key ABC stakeholders -- his view trumped missing or untrustworthy data . With Jose's input, the business case was deemed reliable. Global managers bought in to the program, and it became successful.

Here's a three step guide to using opinion instead of missing or doubtful data:

  • Step-1:  Rid your unconscious (and those around you) of the mistaken assumption that "data is good, guesses are bad".  It depends upon the reliability and knowledge of the source.
  • Step-2: Seek out the opinion(s) of people who know the processes and the firm, and who are respected by key stakeholders.  (If you find more than two SMEs, consider using the Delphi Method, a technique which can be surprisingly accurate by extracting the wisdom of collective intelligence from a group of individuals.
  • Step-3: Document SME opinions with extreme clarity of scope, definitions and rationale. (One of the most important insights I got from a senior manager early in my career was - get these right, and the answer is sure to be trustworthy.)

There is no reason why "we have no data" need deflate a promising discussion about the value of a solution investment. Simply turn respected SME opinions into "as good as gold" business case benefits.

(Note: Have some good "when opinion trumps data" stories from your experience. Let me know.)

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