analytics flywheel effect

Today’s A:360 talks about analytics and “The Flywheel Effect”. “The Flywheel Effect” comes from Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, and is an excellent metaphor for developing an analytics program at your organization.

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Hey everyone! Welcome to today’s A:360. My name is Brewster Knowlton, and today we’re going to be talking about the “Analytics Flywheel Effect”.

The idea of the Flywheel Effect, or what we’re going to refer to as “The Analytics Flywheel Effect” for our context, goes back to Jim Collins’, Good to Great, where he first brings up this analogy.

So as to not paraphrase Jim Collins’ Flywheel Effect, I’m actually going to read his description of The Flywheel Effect directly from his blog, and I’ll include the link in the transcription so that you can see the original text.

So, here’s Collins’ description of The Flywheel Effect:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. It’s a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It’s about 100 feet in diameter, 10 feet thick, and it weighs about 25 tons. That flywheel is your company. Your job is to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible because momentum — mass times velocity — is what will generate superior economic results over time.

Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward. After two or three days of sustained effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work, but at last the flywheel makes a second rotation. You keep pushing steadily. It makes three turns, four turns, five, six. With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point, you can’t say exactly when—you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.

Though Collins’ is using this analogy of The Flywheel Effect for a company, it actually perfectly describes what we want to do with our analytics program. Think about it like this – if you are an organization that hasn’t done anything with analytics before, your new analytics program is your flywheel. It’s your hundred-ton flywheel that hasn’t moved and is at a complete standstill. The Flywheel Effect says we need to build some momentum early on and keep sustained pressure.

We need that early sustained pressure so that we can get it moving, even if it’s just a little bit, and then keep it moving. Analytics, in this way, is a lot like The Flywheel Effect in that it really is dependent on quick, early wins and sustained effort. And, that quick, early sustained effort will help you finally overcome inertia and get that flywheel started.

To get our analytics flywheel moving, the best recommendation I can make is to identify some quick, early wins. And, I’m not using that same phrase by accident as it’s really important for your analytics program to get it off the ground. Start by trying to find some things that are relatively easy that are going to make as big of an impact as possible with as minimal effort as possible. Sounds obvious, right? This is why building a report inventory, which I mentioned in the data strategy podcast, is so important. If you can find an opportunity to solve a redundant, manual process that’s going to save somebody 100 hours a month with relatively little effort (and believe me, there’s going to be plenty of those opportunities out there!) With that, you’re going to be able to really start turning that metaphorical flywheel.

With each subsequent quick win, more and more people throughout the organization will realize what analytics can provide them and how it might be used. All of a sudden, instead of going out to your business users and asking, “How can we help you?” they’re going to be coming to you saying, “Hey, we heard that you helped someone else, can you help us?” That’s how you can start to turn your analytics flywheel.

Jim Collins’ Flywheel Effect, though not necessarily intended for analytics when he first wrote about it in Good to Great, perfectly applies to some of the inertia that you’ll have to overcome to build a successful and sustainable analytics program at your organization.

That’s it for today! Thanks again for listening to today’s A:360.

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