If you haven’t played Angry Birds, it is a game where you put little birds in a slingshot and launch them at a structure made up of pigs and crates and other goodies. Apparently the pigs tried stealing the birds’ eggs, and the birds are NOT happy about it! Don’t overthink the plot.
My almost-3-year-old son is an Angry Birds fanatic. He plays all the games on the iPad, and he has real blocks and pigs that he sets up and chucks little birds at to knock down. He even often pretends to be a bird himself, shouting “Angry Biiiirds!!!” and launching himself at his mom or me – usually when we are trying to sleep.
I see the appeal of the Angry Birds games, but I never got hopelessly addicted like many of the folks that live in my house. That changed a bit with the unavoidable purchase of Bad Piggies. This game from the makers of Angry Birds, is set from the pigs’ point of view – and instead of launching something to destroy something already built, you have to build something to bring your pig to safety. In each short level you use various items and build a contraption to carry a pig through obstacles to reach a finish line, while accomplishing various objectives along the way.
Now THIS is a game for me! I like coming up with creative contraptions that can race down a hill, fly through the air, pick up a star box, and reach the finish line within the target time. If I have a bad design, or do a bad job controlling the contraption, I will inevitably crash and often explode. The brilliance of the game is that you don’t have to simply “guess right” at what the game designer wants you to build – there can be several different contraption designs that can get you across the finish line.
Can you see where I’m going with this yet?
When thinking about something else I care about, Enterprise Information Management (EIM), I began to see parallels between this cute game and what I do for a living. If EIM is a new term for you, think of it as a grouping of several data-related disciplines: specifically data governance, metadata management, master data management, and data quality. If it involves sharing information among people and/or systems, EIM is probably involved.
In observing EIM efforts at different client organizations, I witness many ways that companies attempt to reach the finish line. Let’s explore some, in piggy terms:
The Motionless Contraption
Some companies are adamant that they will engineer a perfect solution before setting off down the hill. Two years later, their magnificent solution is ready, and immediately crashes and explodes at the bottom of the first hill. To really draw out the analogy, the landscape of their level is continuously changing over those two years, and they must redesign several times before the solution is ever ready for action. No stars!
The Abandoned Effort
Sometimes companies slap together the first thing they can, immediately set off, and crash and explode immediately. Rather than revise their design and try again, they quit and find an easier level. No stars!
The Clumsy Pilot
Most of the time, the piggy contraptions need some guidance while they are in motion: turning on a fan to blow and move the contraption in the right direction, or opening an umbrella to soften a landing. In many levels, even with a perfectly reasonable design, if the contraption is not carefully guided, things have a tendency to crash and explode. No stars!
The Sinking Sunk Cost Contraption
In some cases the contraption may be good enough to get most of the way there, but it becomes clear that there is a design flaw that will never allow it to satisfy all of the level’s goals. Because the company has already invested so much time and energy building the ill-fated contraption, they refuse to stake a step back to start over. No stars!
So what to do?
All organizations struggle in their EIM efforts – and that is okay. We have all seen these piggy scenarios play out in a variety of contexts. The takeaway is to recognize when the same patterns emerge repeatedly. People and companies tend to gravitate to similar patterns of behavior. The ones above are most obvious in terms of the game, but there are countless others (like not accepting the need to complete the level in the first place).
The key to successes in either “Bad Piggies” or EIM is to be creative, learn from mistakes, take chances, and not be afraid to start over. It’s about balancing the time spent designing, prototyping, testing, and refining the approach until you reach your goals, whatever they are. Three stars!
Anthony J. Algmin is a Manager in the Business Intelligence Practice at West Monroe Partners.