Toyota learns BI from kitchen renovation

When Simon Dorrat arrived as Toyota Australia's new business intelligence manager four years ago, he was presented with a set of old tools for producing a suite of basic reports. Luckily, Dorrat's own kitchen renovation taught him how to get business intelligence back on track for the company.

When Simon Dorrat arrived as Toyota Australia's new business intelligence manager four years ago, he was presented with a set of old tools for producing a suite of basic reports. Luckily, Dorrat's own kitchen renovation taught him how to get business intelligence back on track for the company.

Toyota

(Toyota image by Daniel, CC2.0)

Speaking at Gartner's Business Intelligence and Information Management summit in Sydney this week, Dorrat said that the company's IT department was rapidly losing credibility due to the fact that business intelligence projects were taking too long to deliver. Even worse, he said, once they were delivered, they often didn't meet the needs of the company due to the time that had passed in the development phase.

"The problem with that was that [business intelligence] projects tended to be big. They tended to cost a lot of money and take up a lot of time," Dorrat said.

"Because of the length of [project development] time, requirements would often be out of date or irrelevant by the time we delivered. That could have been 12 months from the time it signed off. This led to a lot of frustration in the business part and the IT department [lost] a lot of credibility."

As a result, departments started to go outside of the IT department, and build their own business intelligence databases in Microsoft Excel and Access. Dorrat said that while it was encouraging to see different departments taking initiative, the databases often weren't built to scale out when they started sharing them across the organisation.

Dorrat decided it was time for a change, and started asking the company's different business units what they wanted from their own business intelligence reports. It wasn't long before problems began to emerge with the company's existing waterfall development model, particularly with communication breakdowns between teams.

"The main message I got when I went around and asked people about the service they were getting was that it took too long, cost too much and was missing key functionality. There were a number of repeating issues," he said of the meetings.

It was then that Dorrat started thinking about his kitchen renovation.

"I really had no idea where to start [with a kitchen]. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooked every night and made sandwiches for my kids every night, so knew I wanted to get it right. I wanted something easy to clean, that had more room. That was about all I knew," he said.

Dorrat said that he knew vaguely what he wanted but had no idea where to start on the finer details of the renovation, so he consulted two different experts about the best way to install the new kitchen. The experts let him experiment with ideas in a practical way, telling him what would work and what wouldn't as he considered what he wanted the bench tops made out of, what type of colour scheme would work, whether a range hood would suit the design and so on.

"I couldn't have thought of that just off the top of my head," he said of the renovation, "but by being able to actually play with it, visualise it, with something concrete, that made all the difference and I ended up with a really good kitchen that I'm happy with."

Dorrat started applying this lesson to Toyota's business intelligence unit and came up with a new project delivery model that involved more user engagement prior to construction while delivering on projects faster and more efficiently.

In the new framework, Dorrat introduced new planning mechanisms to lay down exactly what the user wanted and expected from a new product. Project teams and senior management are brought in at the ground level so that every level of the business understands what the project would deliver, before a rough prototype was displayed days later.

The business intelligence teams held hands-on meetings with project teams in the design phase, which sees them moving components around on whiteboards to drive interactivity and really flesh out what users want.

"The response from the business is that their eyes light up. This is what they have been complaining about. In the old way, [IT] never talked to [users] about the system, [they'd] only see it 10 months later.

"We're letting them drive the conversation, and we guide them step by step using prototypes and mock-ups," he said, in the same way that his renovator showed him exactly how to get the most out of his new kitchen.

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