Maximizing Returns Series Part 3: Made to Order

Maximizing Returns Series Part 3: Made to Order

In Part 2 of my series on Maximizing Returns on your data investments, I highlighted the need to involve data subject matter experts or data stewards throughout the process. Data Stewards and SME’s help you determine if the goals of your investment are realistic. They can safely guide you toward the data of value which is the core of what you are after. In Part 3 of the series, I will discuss several considerations that will help you define a unique roadmap for your investment.

Made to Order

According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase “made-to-order” was first used in 1902 to describe a product or service that was “produced to supply a special or an individual demand”. Unless your data investment is purely commoditized (e.g. adding hardware or cloud support), the phrase “made to order” should be your mantra during the discovery phase. Your data solutions have specific success parameters and constraints that require a custom plan. A big mistake to avoid while drafting a plan is relying on artifact reuse. Although a previous successful project had good planning documents, that does not make it the best source of plan artifacts on your next project. Overuse of templates and old plans can get in the way of the fresh-start thinking that you need given your current objectives and constraints.

Your Roadmap to Maximizing Returns

In this series, I define a roadmap as a strategic tool used to frame out the boundaries and logical steps for a data investment. A roadmap does not contain project task details or feature specifications, rather it serves primarily as a tool to communicate high-level characteristics and phases of the solution, including:

  • Realistic milestones (steps) that can be achieved throughout the investment
  • Financial milestones; funding intervals as appropriate
  • A “line in the sand” for when certain aspects of an investment will be delivered
  • An overall time scale for the investment, which may vary in granularity (weeks, months, quarters)
  • Dependency constraints implied by the sequence of milestones
  • Points in time for stakeholder integration as appropriate
  • External milestones that impact your business that should be addressed in your strategy (business cycles, other system migrations, etc.)

Figure 1 illustrates some of the major considerations discussed throughout this series and how they help refine a made to order roadmap. Any single element within these considerations can alter your plan. With input from the stakeholders that have been mentioned, a roadmap can be assembled that addresses these considerations:


Defining tight boundaries around what the investment will deliver is essential. Start by focusing on the primary business objectives and determine how much of the mountain you want to climb. When sizing the effort, ask yourself: does it make sense to break this into smaller pieces? Will a series of smaller investments provide better results?

Data Knowledge

If we truly know the data that is in scope, we will know the origins and issues with the data of value. This will help determine the amount of cleansing, clarification and structure we will need to apply before the data can be leveraged. This knowledge is essential, and lack of it is often the main reason expectations are not met and investment returns are not achieved.


A key input to our roadmap is the list of stakeholders who play roles in planning the solution. The beneficiaries and end users will help define the success parameters. The data stewards you identify will provide the guidance needed to mitigate risks and maximize the data value. The delivery/development team needs to be identified. The roles played by the stakeholders are equally important in planning the investment roadmap. Be sure to have the right people included.


Listing out the risks early on can help you avoid them. When meeting with stakeholders, risk identification should be an early topic. Data stewards, end users, project sponsors, and development resources can all contribute to risk identification and planning. Think about some of these: how do we avoid misleading metrics or misuse of data? Are we looking for the right data? What happens if we don’t capture all the data we need? Is the data we collect accurate?


Aside from the other considerations listed here, what human and/or technical resources do we need? For example, will someone need to take the unstructured data we collect and prepare it for business use cases? Do we have sufficient personnel to meet the time requirements in this scope? Do we need additional IT spend to get the tools and technology platforms we need? Include the other considerations listed here before technology decisions are made. When working with software vendors for example, do not consider proposals that seek to sell a platform without understanding the types of data you have.

Figure 1: Considerations for a made to order roadmap

Figure 1: Considerations for a made to order roadmap

Figure 1: Considerations for a made to order roadmap; Data Lens, Inc.

Implementing Your Roadmap

Your roadmap is a high-level strategic document. It will not help you much with project management, risk management, vendor management, etc. Dedicated project management tools and approaches exist for those tasks, however the roadmap should be a guide point when drafting the more detailed project management plans for the investment. You should reference it during strategic planning sessions and refer to it often especially when assumptions change.

Conclusion: Ready, Aim…

While not all the considerations discussed in this series apply to every data investment, their inclusion in your discovery and planning phases will lead to a more well-formed roadmap. Just going through the exercises of learning your data flows, identifying data of value and meeting with key stakeholders will position you for informed decision making. You will get better at funding the investments if you have your scope, timing and resources in focus.

I hope that by now you can benefit from some of the points made in this series. Maximizing the return on your data investment does not come from being fastest to pull the trigger. The vision you have for your investment can be realized with even more dividends by first discovering the best path to get there.


Made to Order

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