2014 Academy Awards and Analytics-based Performance Management


There are lessons from movies that can apply to the challenges that employee teams encounter when implementing analytics and enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM / CPM) methods. What are some lessons from the nominees for the 2014 Academy Awards best picture nominees? 

I always find the acceptance speeches at Hollywood’s Academy Awards to be inspirational. The ones I enjoy most are Oscar recipients who thank the teams that contributed to their receiving the award. Success comes much more from teams than from an individual’s performance.

My favorite acceptance speeches are from Oscar recipients in science and technology. In contrast to actors, directors and writers, these winners love pushing the envelope in fields like animation, special effects, costume design and sound editing. They are like NASA engineers enjoying the thrill of landing an astronaut on the moon, placing a telescope in orbit, or landing a rover on Mars that can provide facts that answer questions that so many of us are interested in the answers.

How do film awards relate to implementing projects?

There is a tight connection between Oscar winners and project teams implementing analytics-based enterprise performance management (EPM) methodologies, such as customer profitability analysis, driver-based rolling financial forecasts, strategic scorecards, and operational dashboards. Each method is imbedded with business analytics of all flavors, such as regression and correlation analysis. Project teams also enjoy success seeing these types of solutions go live and being leveraged for employees to gain insight and foresight, make better decisions, and align work activities and priorities with the executive team’s strategy.

Here are few examples of the 2014 Academy Award best movie nominees with these connections to EPM:

  • 12 Years a Slave – This film is based on an true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty from a mean slave owner, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his odyssey, Solomon's chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist alters his life and helps liberate Solomon to resume his freedom. This movie demonstrates to advocates of analytics and EPM methods the power of patience and perseverance. Most initiatives face skepticism and reluctance to implement them. Resistance to change is human nature. People like the status quo and can be risk averse. Never give up promoting what you believe is mission-critical for your organization.
  • The Wolf of Wall Street – In this film in the early 1990s Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a Long Island stockbroker, who starts a penny stock brokerage firm. The firm quickly grows exponentially yielding him high status in the Wall Street community. As his status grows, so does his lies and deception. His firm is a corrupt scam. With the FBI onto Belfort's illegal trading schemes, he devises new ways to cover his tracks and continue to watch his fortune grow by defrauding investors. Jordan is convicted and goes to prison. What analytics and EPM message can come from this? An easy one is that “crime never pays.” But a deeper lesson is to constantly measure and monitor progress of an organization’s performance. (Think balanced scorecard.) Understand the causal factors that drive improvements and validate that they were realized.
  • Gravity – In this film Dr. Ryan Stone is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky is in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed from debris of a Russian satellite that exploded. This leaves Stone and Kowalsky completely alone and tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. Their oxygen is dwindling. Through the process, they are often on their own without the other which leads to decisions about what may be best for the other at the expense of oneself. The analytics and EPM message here is that implementing these methods rarely go as planned. There are always unexpected events. There is value in having contingency plans, and even more value in being agile to quickly adapt to new circumstances.
  • American Hustle – In this film a brilliant con man, Irving Rosenfeld, who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia. Carmine Polito, a volatile New Jersey political operator, is caught between the con-artists and Feds. The analytics and EPM lesson here is for project managers and teams to be wary of their internal organization’s games and politics. Make sure you have a reliable and strong project sponsor.
  • Dallas Buyers Club – In this movie in 1985 a Texas electrician and sometimes rodeo bull rider, Ron Woodroof, is a stereotypical redneck: racist and homophobic. While in the hospital on a work related injury, the doctors discover and inform him that he is HIV-positive, and that he will likely soon die. He battles with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies and searches for alternative treatments. Through this experience his values change to accepting of fellow HIV-positive people that he once hated. This movie demonstrates how companies can use teamwork to outsmart competitors not by taking them head-on but rather framing the problem with out-of-the-box thinking. It also demonstrates how leveraging skilled partners outside your organization can drive success. When a project team has discipline combined with creativity, any challenge can be overcome.

Implementing analytics-based performance management methodologies is a challenge that requires teamwork. The most motivating Oscar acceptance speeches for me are not self-serving but rather are speeches that humbly acknowledge that the collective effort of a team makes the difference.       

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Gary Cokins shares his advanced cost management and performance improvement systems expertise with the Business Finance community.

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