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Mike English
WRITTEN BY
Mike English

Analytics, Best Practices

Old School Board Games…and Data Analytics?

Posted on May 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM

Business lessons learned through games

Do kids still play board games with each other?  Today, this activity seems to have turned into more of a nostalgic, family bonding activity. 

That’s too bad…bringing a board game to a friend’s home may be from an era gone-by, but I learned valuable strategies from many of the popular games in the 1970’s and 80’s. There were a lot of kids in my old neighborhood – and when we weren’t playing sports – the thirst for competition was satisfied with intense games of Monopoly, Risk, and The Game of Life.

When I first played Monopoly, my initial approach was to put all of my effort into acquiring the high-priced, pre-eminent properties of Board Walk and Park Place.  I was convinced that this strategy was going to lead to a swift and convincing victory when my opponents would “stay” in my high-priced hotels…and be unable to pay their bills.

I had to lose several games with that strategy in order to learn an important lesson in business. Going “all-in” with a single high-risk, high-reward strategy is certainly fun when you win…but many times it does not achieve the result you are ultimately playing for. I learned that you are more likely to win in the game of Monopoly if you avoid the Board Walk trap and have several lower-priced properties working for you at the same time.  The object of the game is to finish with the most money – and, I quickly learned the benefits of playing the game with a “total return” mindset.

Prioritizing data projects from a Return on Investment (ROI) perspective

How can we apply this gaming tactic to school finance and data analytic projects? The path to corporate victory can be clearer when you look at your data as an income producing property and prioritize your investments based on a total return paradigm.

In a competitive game of Monopoly, I was more likely to win when I focused my efforts on:

  1. Property that was easier to acquire (lower initial purchase cost)
  2. Property that was easier to develop (lower costs for homes and hotels)

By utilizing this methodology, I could quickly acquire several properties that could produce ongoing revenue streams without being overly committed in a singular investment initiative (e.g. Board Walk).

This thinking can translate profitably to data investments you are evaluating within your organization. Deploying a strategy that leads to a series of smaller but quicker paybacks can lead to a greater overall return for the organization. Can you identify profitable data within your organization that would be easy to acquire and develop in order to capture immediate ROI?

When you evaluate your data projects from this perspective, you may realize that you have the potential to quickly develop several “income producing properties.” Deployment speed is a critical factor to consider.  A large data project may have significant return potential, but if it is too complicated and takes too long to deploy, the total return for the organization may be reduced.  In fact, a “Board Walk” strategy may create opportunity loss that will never be recovered.

Stacking a series of “quick winners”

In very simple terms, this game mindset is all about grabbing the “lowest hanging fruit” and quickly moving on to the next-best opportunity.  The projects you are considering may have a wide range of purpose…from creating a new revenue to reducing an expense or even generating a process efficiency.  All of these can be evaluated and ranked from a perspective of return vs. effort.

At Forecast5, when evaluating our own data projects, as well as those of our clients, we have utilized this simple paradigm:

  1. Identify the projects with the best value ratio and execute them (in terms of complexity) up to the point of diminishing return, in order to…
  2. Move on to the next-best opportunity…
  3. So that we achieve compounded, long term returns…
  4. Understanding that deployment speed is a critical factor in the organization’s total potential return.

Thinking about projects from this perspective can help you generate a higher total return for your organization.  By looking at your data as a series of investment decisions, you can bring financial clarity and priority to your decision process.  Adopting a strategy that captures a series of “quick wins” may provide your organization the highest overall total return.  Additionally, by stacking wins you may create valuable organizational momentum – which in turn, may ignite an environment of data innovation and inspiration.  It’s your move…

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Mike English is a founder and the CEO/President of Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. – a technology company focused on software development and data analytics for the public sector.  Mike has spent his entire career concentrating on the development of financial and strategic solutions for schools and municipalities.  Forecast5 is headquartered in Naperville, Illinois – a suburb 30 miles west of Chicago.

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