Monthly Archives: November 2013

Myths surrounding Dimensional Models

I came across an interesting article dispelling myths around dimensional models and thought I will discuss them here.

Myth 1: Dimensional models are only for Summary level data – This myth is result of ill-designed or planning a design that caters to only a certain applications requiring a narrow set of query results. Dimensional models should be querable from the lowest grain to the highest possible and therefore should contain full set of data. There is practically no limitations on how much data can be stored in dimensional model tables. Summary level data should complement the granular data but should never be replaced. The amount of data store in dimensional model should be driven by business requirements and processes.

Myth 2: Dimensional models are less enterprise and more departmentalized- The dimensional models should be designed around the business process and the data captured and collected can be further used by different departments in the company. Dimensional models should not be designed separately and solely for a single business unit but should be built to use across different groups within a company. For example, sales data can be stored centrally in a dimensional model but can be further used in different data marts designed & developed for different groups like pricing, promotions, Sales strategy group etc.

Myth 3: Dimensional Models are not scalable – This is completely untrue, dimensional models are extremely scalable.  All the database vendors have incorporated the need to accommodate billions of rows of data. As much as normalized model have large data and relationships they can be translated to dimensional model due to the similarity in logical content.

Myth 4: Dimensional models cannot be integrated – Dimensional attributes are highly reusable and are often used in the ETL process to transform and replicate them into other databases in a desired form. They integrate very well with other databases when used as a centralized location of master data and using ETL feeds to replicate and source the data for different applications.

Is Federal Reserve Private or Government owned?

Recently I had a few friends over and as we talked about the current state of economy and certain policies Feds use for boosting overall growth, an interesting question came up. What is Federal bank? Who owns the bank? Is it private and if so then why do President appoint the chairman?

Let’s understand the structure and working of the internal aspects such as board of governors, chairman’s role and responsibilities, government intervention and regulation, printing of money and distribution. Fed oversees the overall money flow and each bank in US is affiliated with the Fed in terms of lending the money when needed and paying interest on it. Fed system is headed by seven boards of governors from other seven federal banks and a chairman both appointed by the President of United States. The system is strange in regard that while President appoints the governors and chairman, he cannot fire them and nor can chairman fire any of the governors and nor can Congress fire any of them.  The Fed chair is actually not in complete and absolute control of the policies and decisions coming out of the fed committee. He merely persuades and influences others to vote on issues and topics that he thinks needs attention. Federal Reserve has close to 20,000 employees and around $2.3 billion worth of real estate and around $3.7 trillion dollars on their books.

One of the most important job of the chairman is to decide on how much money should circulate in the market. Too much money can cause inflation whereas too little can cause high unemployment. Delicate decisions have to be made depending on the current and future state of economy. Fed might infuse more money in the economy to increase growth and such a scenario is usually turns out positive if the net exports are higher and the net imports are down. This is a very top level assessment but there are many more complicated variables to be considered in an equally complex system.  Chairman cannot alone pull trigger on any decisions but he has to get a majority of votes from the appointed governors. It is interesting to note that only five of the governors can vote at a time and rarely there is a disagreement of more than three votes.

Feds have a strong grip on bank regulation and monetary decisions. Even congress cannot force Fed into any decisions by withholding funding. Since printing money is a job of Federal, its other way around when it comes to Congress. It is the fed who after their operating and administrative expense supplies Congress with the leftover money. So it is safe to say that Congress do not fund Fed but Fed funds Congress. The system is set up in this way due the constitutional decision to not let politics interfere with the monetary policies. For example, when a country is leading to an election any president would like to have low interest rate to boost the economy and help people with lending as well as encourages businesses to lend more and invest more. This might not be as beneficial to the future of the economy as lower interest rates can cause bubbles in in different areas such as housing. The current set up insulates the Federal Reserve to operate through independent & separate decisions from the volatile nature of government policies. Although Congress routinely tries to influences their own agenda in senate hearings.

Fed intervenes heavily during a financial crisis like the 2008 housing bubble crisis when Feds infused various banks with needed fund to stay afloat or by buying the largest insurance firm in the world AIG. When Fed has borrowing needs they swap Federal Reserve Notes for US bond from Treasury.

It is controversial to say Fed is not private yet not managed by government. It is even more controversial to say that the Fed is private. The reason being that government oversees and appoints the chair and governors and fed is answerable to Congress. But the governors are also the CEOs of other private banks which could cause motivation of pushing certain policies beneficial to those banks in particular. Even the shareholders of Fed are 100% private banks. So technically they are owned by these banks. These banker shareholders are paid their operating expenses in addition to the fixed 6% return for profit.  This also means that common people will have to pay for the interest in maintaining certain fixed reserve for every dollar that was lend to a bank. In my opinion this just adds an overhead and benefits those banks in particular. Maybe there is a need for reforms?

Here is the official explanation from the the federal reserve website.

Who owns the Federal Reserve?

The Federal Reserve System fulfills its public mission as an independent entity within government.  It is not “owned” by anyone and is not a private, profit-making institution.

As the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve derives its authority from the Congress of the United States. It is considered an independent central bank because its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government, it does not receive funding appropriated by the Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms.

However, the Federal Reserve is subject to oversight by the Congress, which often reviews the Federal Reserve’s activities and can alter its responsibilities by statute. Therefore, the Federal Reserve can be more accurately described as “independent within the government” rather than “independent of government.”

The 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, which were established by the Congress as the operating arms of the nation’s central banking system, are organized similarly to private corporations–possibly leading to some confusion about “ownership.” For example, the Reserve Banks issue shares of stock to member banks. However, owning Reserve Bank stock is quite different from owning stock in a private company. The Reserve Banks are not operated for profit, and ownership of a certain amount of stock is, by law, a condition of membership in the System. The stock may not be sold, traded, or pledged as security for a loan; dividends are, by law, 6 percent per year.

References: http://www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/about_14986.htm

Project Management Essentials – Gathering Requirements for a Project

As a project progresses through the planning phase and once the scope has been defined and documented the requirement gathering phase takes over.  It is a process of defining and documenting stakeholders need for meeting the project goals and final outcome. Requirements gathering not only consist of collecting the specifics of what an end product should look like but also pertain to gathering other vital supplemental information surrounding the end product. This supplemental information guides us and gives a deeper view of any particular requirements. The requirements documentation will contain goals and objectives that go in the requirements traceability matrix, level of service, performance requirements, security, quality requirements and acceptance criteria as well as support and training requirements.

A charter is a good place to start along with the list of stakeholders as it helps figure out and formalize a plan for proper involvement and coordination of requirements gathering activities. There are different ways of extracting the needs, some of which are discussed below.

Interview & Discussion- In interview session can be scheduled with the subject matter experts of stakeholder to ask questions surrounding the project objectives outlined in the charter. The responses would be documented and further follow up sessions would be scheduled on iterative basis until all the requirements are fully collected.

Focus groups and workshops – Sessions can be held with the SMEs or conduct cross functional meetings wherein members of different groups or departments would contribute on helping understand and shape the requirements.

Group decision making techniques include brain storming and voting as well as Delphi technique. Beyond these, questionnaire and surveys can be conducted and the majority of response or similar responses will be further discussed and become part of further conversations and clarifications.

Prototypes – One of the most common techniques I have encountered are creating mock ups or models. Mockups are a great way to convey what the stakeholder is looking for in a product and the final outcomes. Mockups can be a PowerPoint presentation detailing report design and displays the look and feel as well as elements needed in the report along with other business logic.

The requirements traceability matrix is a very important tool that would be used frequently by project managers to track, trace, document and maintain all the information about the requirement as well as information surrounding that requirement. Requirements traceability matrix document is basically an excel sheet with following columns.

Requirement id – Each requirement should have a unique id and this should not be mistaken with row numbers. The id can be numeric and in order but they will never change even if a new requirement is added or deleted from the middle of the list.

Requirement – This is the context containing description of the requirement.

Source – This field will state the person/group from whom the requirement originated.

Business Need – States the need for that particular requirement on why and how it will help build and shape the outcome.

Project Objectives – This describes how the requirement is aligned with the project objectives.

WBS deliverable – Each requirement is translated eventually into one or multiple Work Breakdown Structure entries. This field will state all the WBS and other work product dependencies.

Test Strategy – This field will state how the requirement will be tested for quality control and quality assurance and to ensure that acceptance criteria will be met through the strategy.

Organization – States the group or department who requested the requirement.

Status – Contains the current status of the requirement. This is frequently visited throughout the project and updated as and when a requirement undergoes status change.

Management Theories

What type of manager would you like to be know as? Someone who micro manages or someone who inspires or someone with leadership and command? Managing your team or resources can be a daunting task as the team member’s personalities differs. In my experience I found success while dealing with each resources on a case by case basis by focusing on their personalities, needs and expectations. For instance I have seen a team member completely content with their current job while another member is quite restless and is looking to progress their career on a fast track whereas the third person is partly happy with their current situation and would like to seek more opportunity within or outside of the organization.

There are several known theories managers adopt while working with their team of which few are discussed below.

  1. Expectancy Theory – The employees are often motivated by the positive outcomes and rewards related to exceptional work they did or by performing work that exceeds expectations.
  2. Hygiene Theory – This theory takes into fact how employees feel about their pay, compensation, benefits and work conditions.  Obviously these are some very important criteria that employees consider for being satisfied.
  3. Theory of Needs (McClelland) – The theory assumes that people are motivated either by power, achievement or affiliation and they should be managed accordingly to the category they fall under.
  4. Maslow’s Hierarchy – People climb up the pyramid by fulfilling the lowest level and moving up. The bottommost and the first level is “Physiological” where the basic needs like food, shelter, water are fulfilled. The next level is “Safety” where people feel safe and secure at their work. There is then “Social” level where employees like to be surrounded by people they like and are comfortable to work with. Next is “Esteem” where employees will be admired for their work by their co-workers and accepted as an important part of the team. The last one is “Self-Actualization” where people learn to live their life by their true nature and capabilities and that they will be happy to perform the tasks that they would like to and not what they dislike and is imposed upon them.
  5. Theory Z – This theory takes loyalty into consideration and suggests that job security will mean a higher satisfaction level and desire to contribute in a positive way.
  6. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y – Theory X suggests that managers think that all people dislike work and that they should be micromanaged to get desired output. Theory Y suggests that people are self-motivated and that they need minimal supervision and guidance to get their work done.