At this time of year, most of you are expecting me to write a post tying business with sports, but I want to surprise you with a parallel between business and the military. Many of the issues the military faces and the value it derives from reconnaissance (recon) is very similar to those game and other tech companies derive from data. In the military, recon is used to gather intelligence on the enemy. In business, analytics is used to gather intelligence on your customers. By exploring these similarities, you can better use analytics to achieve victory.
How deep to probe
One of the first question military planners face is how far to send its units. The deeper you send your assets, the more information you will gain. As they go deeper, however, the cost increasing as they are more likely to get killed or captured. You face the same decision, how many assets should you devote to getting intelligence on your customer.
To succeed in business, you first need to determine what information you need from analytics to drive your business (the military equivalent of winning a battle). Then, you need to devote sufficient resources to generate this analysis.
What assets to use
Military commanders have multiple ways to reconnoiter the enemy. They can use troops, special forces (e.g., Rangers, SAS), ships, aircraft, drones, etc. These assets are not mutually exclusive and a leader will combine them to generate the information they need.
You also have multiple options. You can put analytics in your products, run AB tests, conduct focus tests, deconstruct competitive products, etc. By understanding your information needs, you can then enlist the appropriate data products to support your efforts.
When to attack
In the military, commanders are faced with the critical decision of when to attack. A commander who is too cautious and waits for perfect information from their recon units can easily miss the most opportune time to attack as their enemy gets reinforcements or takes the initiative. Conversely, a commander who attacks before he has sufficient intelligence on the enemy can get ambushed or attack in the wrong place.
You face the same decision, how much information do you need before making a decision. Do you need data from 100 users or 10,000 users, do you need to run an AB test for one week or six months, should you have one focus test or multiple tests over a long period? As part of your planning, you need to determine what level of information will trigger your decision.
All plans blow up in battle
One thing that everyone in the military agrees to is that once the battle starts, even the best-made plans fall apart. The fog of war, unexpected reactions from your soldiers and the opponent and just luck will cause events to evolve in surprising ways. The forces that succeed are ones that have robust plans and have trained their soldiers to react well.
Anyone who has ever implemented a big feature or made a major pricing change understands it is exactly the same in business. If your team has planned and practiced implementation, even when things go crazy they will can think quickly, adjust and still win.
Every action generates a reaction
A commander’s recon forces may give them great information on the enemy, but once the battle begins the enemy will react and the commander needs to continue recon efforts as well as expect the enemy to not remain static.
You face the same situation. If you change pricing for your product, your customers may find alternative products. Or competitors may launch sales to attract your users. You need to continue your analytic efforts so you understand how the environment has changed and alter your strategy to adjust to these changes.
The challenges the military faces in its reconnaissance efforts, which are crucial to winning, are similar to those you face in deploying analytics to make crucial business decisions. Three keys to success for the military will also help you win.
- Understand the data you need and plan accordingly. Once you know what analysis is needed to support your decision, you then can get sufficient resources and the appropriate resources to garner this information.
- Focus on timing. As part of your planning process, determine early the information you need to move forward.
- Things will change. Build a robust plan and train your team to think quickly so they can adjust to how their efforts evolve.