Stop Running Analytics Projects Backwards! End User Testing Is Key!


Hey…This is Melissa Bryan, your Business Analytics Coach. It’s my continuing quest to socialize the nerds so that the world can be positively impacted and transformed though data and analytics and today I want to talk about End User TestingEnd User Testing

Does it feel like it’s always struggle for you to complete projects on time and on budget…No matter how good your intentions are?

Do you tell yourself that this time it’s going to be different but seldom is that the case?

Does it feel like no matter how diligently you gather requirements end user testing always highlights a million issues and a couple unwanted surprises?

Have you ever released a project even though you knew testing wasn’t 100% complete because you had to “GO LIVE” by a particular date?

Let’s take it a step further. Are you guilty of missing your kid’s soccer games, date night with your sweetie, or spending time with friends because you have to work late or weekends clearing issues to meet a deadline?

I know this story all too well. You’re tasked with building a new forecasting system that includes expenses, salary & headcount, revenue, capital and cash flow models. In the waterfall world, you would interview HR and Finance team members, take a million notes, ask for sample reports, develop a project plan and have the end user sign off that all you heard and noted it was correct.

With your development bible in hand, you go off and build until you were 100% complete. Then weeks and weeks after the initial interviews, you ask the HR and Finance departments to test the results. However, because their schedules are crazy and everybody these days are doing the job of two people, getting them to start testing is like pulling teeth. Even more frustrating is that you know in the back of your head they’re not giving it proper diligence.

Then, once they finally get some testing done, you hear, “Oh…did I tell you?” The five words every developer and consultant hates, because, no you did not tell me! You find out they forgot to tell you about some “special exceptions,” and oh by the way, two weeks ago Sr. management decided that we are no longer calculating productivity using a partial factor and we need a more robust method to deal with the complexity. They need you to change all that logic to a multifactor productivity calculation.

You built the productivity model weeks ago. Now you have to go back, take the time to understand the code, make the changes, and have the end user retest. The worst part…these are only for the issues found in productivity. They still need to test expenses, revenue, capex and cash flow.

You are now only a couple of weeks from go live. All these bugs have to be fixed and then need to be tested again! Since we were at the end of the project, we were out of time and running dangerously low on budget. Talk about stressful! No wonder so many people are unhappy at work.

After years of working in this stressful environment, I started thinking there has to be a better way or I need to find a new profession.

I wanted more success and less stress. Isn’t that something you want too?

Lucky for me the universe heard me. As I was posting my resume on LinkedIn and Monster, the owner of my company was reading, “Get twice as much done in half the time” and this was when I was introduced to agile methodology. My life was changed forever.

Your thinking, “Melissa…it changed your life? Really…your life?” Yes! It completely shifted how I work how I communicate, and how I interact with others. But the biggest shift has to do with my expectations – the expectations I place on myself and others.

The alternative to waterfall, or the traditional sequential development, is agile. Agile teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cycles, known as sprints. At the end of the sprint, which are typically 2-4 weeks, a product or a portion of a product is fully tested and shippable.

Agile has completely revolutionized how we run our business. We don’t just use it in all our project, but the entire organization is run with an agile approach. Our leadership team even uses sprints and daily standup meetings to keep us focused on the longer term strategic objectives.

You say…That’s great Melissa, but my company by no means is ready for agile. Transparency is something we give lip service to. We have too many data hoarders, empire builders and micromanaging middle managers to have self-forming teams. The shear thought of giving up their perceived power scares the bejesus out of them.

I know that most organizations are not ready for Agile or a Scrum culture, but there is one simple change I learned from the agile guru, Mike Dwyer, that you can make now. This one simple change can have dramatic effect on your project success and start getting you out of the office by 5 o’clock. It’s so simple and makes complete sense yet there are people out there who will doubt it and be naysayers even before they try it.

Here it is…

Don’t wait until the end of the project to develop your test scripts. Have your customer build the test scripts before you start the development of any particular module. Make it your first priority in each build. It’s that simple. This is completely opposite to the traditional waterfall method. Although it is a simple change, many will find it rebellious. That’s ok. New, no matter how simple, can feel distressing.

Having the business users develop the test scripts before we develop does two things. First, it challenges the business to demonstrate their understanding of the math and the business logic behind their processes. It also helps mitigate risk. I worked with many teams that are greener than green. If you’re working with a department of Kermits, I wouldn’t build anything until they can demonstrate an understanding of their business. Otherwise, you are going to be burning through those budget dollars. Do you want to be the one to tell the CFO why the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and has nothing to show for it?  Me either!

Secondly, it gives you the answers! You now are building from the right specification on day one. Specifications designed by the user. You can now test your build every day. If the code you write doesn’t produce the answer, you’ll know it now and not 16 weeks down the road.

I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and try this one small change on your next project. Much of what we do in business analytics can be tested right in excel and excel is a tool that all finance, marketing, sales, operations and HR professionals know how to use. So find that subject matter expert or business analyst who knows their stuff and have them build your answer set today…not in 16 weeks.

I would love to hear how this small change is impacting your work! Post your comments below. From one socialized nerd to another, go forth and transform the world through data and analytics. And for more information on agile read, “Scrum – Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time“ and don’t forget about Lodestar’s Faster Cheaper Analytics program which can help you decrease stress and increase productivity with agile and Scrum. Email us at for more information!

Lodestar Solutions 2015 Year in Review


2015 Year in review2015 has brought some exciting new programs and changes to Lodestar Solutions. Not only have we implemented a new goal setting system within our firm (Traction) but we’ve also created new valuable content & programs for our clients. From Cognos Planning migrations at to software agnostic business analytics coaching at, we have broadened our offerings so that you can not only increase profits but increase communication and look like a ROCK STAR within your organization. So without further adieu, Lodestar's 2015 year in review:

  • Traction – Lodestar Solutions has implemented a goal setting system called Traction which has allowed us to stay focused on our internal organizational goals. By using Gino Wickman’s Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), it has guided us in setting short term & long terms goals and has helped us identify our core processes. This allows us to structure our organization based on our strengths & weaknesses by putting it down on paper. Traction tools such as 90-day “rocks”, the Vision Traction Organizer (VTO), and Level 10 meetings keep everyone moving in the same direction/on the same page. For more information on how you can add Traction to your organization, we advise reading “Traction – Get A Grip On Your Business” by Gino Wickman.
  • Waterfall vs Agile (SCRUM) – Lodestar has adopted a new and more successful project management style. Instead of promoting the traditional analysis, design, code, test, deploy “Waterfall” approach, SCRUM, which is a lightweight project management process, can manage & control software as well as product development by embracing iterative and incremental practices. Similarly, instead of being “artifact-driven”, whereby large requirements documents, analysis specifications, design documents, etc. are created, SCRUM requires very few artifacts. It concentrates on what’s important: managing a project or writing software that produces business value. We HIGHLY advise reading the book SCRUM- The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland.
  • BAAM (Business Analytics Agile Methodology) – Lodestar is using a new flexible project methodology which includes Pre-project planning, Project Kick-Off, Discovery meetings, Sprints, Go Live, Post Project, and Videos. We guarantee that by utilizing this methodology, you will end up looking like a ROCK STAR and being the “go-to” person within your organization.
  • – Lodestar Solutions has created an online training series at that can guide you in your preparation, design, and migration from Cognos Planning to IBM Cognos TM1. You will learn about requirements gathering, licensing, and setting expectations in the preparation stage. We teach you about design consideration, time considerations, and where to get started as far as pre-project considerations. We also include tips we’ve learned from previous Lodestar migration clients.
  • – Statistics show that 68% of software projects fail. Lodestar Solutions can help you defy this statistic and learn the key critical steps needed to correctly deploy BI, CPM and analytics solutions. Lodestar Solution’s business analytics coaches will help identify your team’s strengths & weaknesses utilizing our BAAM methodology. This allows for understanding the crucial activities that every team should follow to increase their project success rate while reducing the cost and time to deliver. Sign up for our coaching at

Feel free to email us at for more information about any of these programs/methodologies.

Cognos BI Reporting – User Testing & Deployment


As a business analytics coach, I’m often asked about user testing and end user deployment when it comes to BI reporting.  Today, I want to take a few minutes and discuss my approach to these subjects.

Where do I start with user testing?

In a basic/summarized format, here is the approach I use most often where BI reporting is concerned. I should mention that Lodestar Solutions believes 100% in using an agile approach to projects and thus user testing is done through each step of the project.

  1. Compare for format – Does it meet the requirements of formatting that the end users are used to or will accept?
  2. Data integrity – Run each report for a number of months & companies and then compare to existing reporting.  Is the data as you would expect?  Are all accounts and companies available?
  3. Speed – Do the reports return data in the expected amount of time or does it take longer than you would think?
  4. Find a power user (other than yourself) to go through points 1 – 3 to test of the same things as you have.
  5. Once final testing is complete, mark reports for deployment.

What steps should I take to have successful end user deployment?

  1. Start small. Pick a couple end users who are quick to learn and who can help build support for analytics and reporting.
  2. Make sure that those end users selected receive some basic training and instructions prior to asking them to test for deployment.
  3. Ask user to go through the steps above in user testing.Cognos BI Reporting
  4. Once complete, move reports to a “production” status and insure only approved users have access to the reports. Security should also be set to the desired levels in this step.
  5. Start to involve other users in the same fashion as above to build support for analytics and reporting.
  6. Make sure you are open to suggestions.  In your role, you try to think of every scenario but inevitably you will miss something. Your end users will provide valuable input to increase your analytics footprint.  Take those suggestion and determine if it is something that should be done now or put on a parking lot list to accomplish in a different phase.

To learn more about BI reporting or to see some of our business analytics coaching videos, check out our YouTube channel at

Agile Project Management, Holacracy, and Zappos: Wave of Change

Let’s step back and draw a picture here. We’ll start off with an open field in a valley on the Serengeti.  Then, we’ll plop down two fences with a walkway between them, along which people walk every day. Now, these fences have been there for over 100 years. Up until recently though, no one saw that the “right” side of the fence had existed. On the left side of the fence, you have a herd of cumbersome rhinos named, “Corporate Hierarchy”, “Corporate Bureaucracy”, and “Waterfall Methodology”. Who would name rhinos that? Not exactly sure, but one can surmise that it’s someone who is short sighted and bent on stifling creativity. On the other side of the fence (let’s call it the “right” side of the fence) are a pair cheetahs. “Their names?” you ask. Well, we call them “Holacracy” and “Agile Project Management”. Holacracy and Agile Project Management were not discovered until recently, which leads many people to shy away from them due to the simple fact that they are different. If history has taught us one thing, it is that those who have embraced the difference and not shied away from change experience the greatest success.

This story, purposefully polarized, draws a unique picture of the project management and corporate management worlds in which we live. Zappos is the first large scale corporation to commit itself to converting to Holacracy and it will be some time before we see their elusive ROI. Because, let’s be honest, culture changes at a company, though the most profound, are the most difficult to quantify. The goal here is to remind you that just because something is different and new, that does not mean it is wrong.  At the same time, it does not mean it is right either. What it means is that it deserves the right to be understood.

As School House Rock says, “Knowledge is power”, why not go empower yourself!

“Politics of a Project” – Project Manager Tips

“Politics of a Project” – Project Manager Tips

Ever have a project that could be of great benefit to the company, but you can’t seem to get it off the ground because of a group of unhappy people?  I like to call these folks “unhappies”.  Every company has them and they seem to be able to instigate negative behavior just by walking into a room. They are never happy unless something is their idea or they somehow get the credit, even though they are masters at dodging work. All of us wish these people would magically decide to quit; but that never happens and the likelihood of them being fired is slim to none. The unfortunate reality is that project managers have to win over unhappies or wield enough power to silence them. From my experience, the latter never happens because project managers have about as much power as the Secretary General of the United Nations. It may seem like a powerful position to be a project manager, however, you often have to work with those that are above your station or have more political power than you. You must somehow persuade people to do the right thing…hence the comparison to the United Nations. If you are interested in how to persuade these power brokers, you should read the story of Kofi Annan titled The Best Intentions.

Anyway back to the unhappies … the first step to converting an unhappy is to identify them. Most unhappies are out in the open and everyone knows them, but there are unhappies lurking in places that you would never suspect – these are the ones that are the most dangerous. A covert unhappy might do everything in their power to undermine the success of the project simply because they were not chosen as a leader. A project manager has to be a student of people watching to be able to spot the covert unhappy to be made into an ally. This might take some maneuvering or manipulation (pick whatever word makes you comfortable) but be assured that you have got to get control of the covert unhappy.

After you have identified and laid plans for converting the covert unhappy, you now have to work on fence-riders.  These are the people that can go either way on a project. They can be a project evangelist or one of the unhappies. I picked the word “evangelist” because one of its definitions is an enthusiastic advocate, which is a dream come true for a project manager. If you get to a fence-rider first and find a way to make he/she feel important, then you are well on your way to making a few “Jimmy Swaggers” – okay, minus personal life scandals.  Fence-riders may help a project manager by convincing others that the project is a good idea. Moreover, fence-riders turned project evangelist have creditability that a projects manager may lack. Project evangelists defend the project in the absence of the project manager. Conversations at lunch, the coffee maker and even in the restroom all make undercurrents; therefore; a well placed project evangelist can ensure that these undercurrents don’t turn into deadly waves.

The fact is, every company is a society of personalities. Each class within that society has a trait that can be beneficial to a project manager if they are astute enough to identify and leverage each. It may appear that this post is about how to manipulate people and move them around like chess pieces and in a way you are right. If you are really honest with yourself, you know that companies don’t always operate in a meritocracy.  How many times have you seen someone promoted over a much more deserving person? How many times have companies bypassed doing the right thing for the easy thing? I could go on and on but I won’t because what I am saying is a good project manager is a great politician and an even better tactician!