The IKEA Effect in Self-Service Qlik Sense

The freedom that comes with self-service Qlik Sense makes many an IT manager shudder -- in their mind, it inevitably leads to data anarchy. For the business user, though, self-reliance and reduced dependency are the key benefits driving the shift from the classic BI model to the self-service one, where the responsibilities of developing data analytics dashboards move away from IT and closer to the business.

But is the appeal of reduced reliance on IT teams really so strong that it’s enough to fuel the change in habits as well as the democratisation of data analysis at such speed and ease? It seems there’s something even stronger at play here that’s accelerating the adoption of self-service BI, and that something is our brain.

The IKEA effect

Curiously, the IKEA effect is credited with the rising popularity of self-service BI.

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias which refers to the tendency for people to regard things they create themselves as more valuable than identical things created by someone else.

If you’ve ever bought anything from this Swedish furniture giant, you know the drill: you pick up your stuff neatly packaged in pieces including a step-by-step instruction and get to assemble the furniture by yourself at home. That’s where your brain begins playing tricks on you.


Image by clement127

A working paper by Harvard Business School points out that traditional economic thinking would suggest a consumer or customer would subtract their own labour from the overall final cost of the product. In fact, the opposite effect can readily be observed and the perceived value of the product is increased the more individual labour is put into it, suggesting there is love in our own labour.

This relates well to a similar story about cakes.

Since 1931, Betty Crocker had been espousing speed and ease in the kitchen to facilitate the life of women living in the city. Part of that was to also invent the famous cake mixture which allowed a person to promptly bake a fresh cake themselves by adding a couple of ingredients. Having to go to the bakery or confectionery to buy a cake was too simple and certainly did not impress the dinner guests. The initial cake mixture required the customer to only add water to the mix and put it in the oven. Betty Crocker struggled to get traction with their new product, even though it ticked off all the economic boxes. It was self-made, could be baked on demand, was very easy, and little could go wrong.

Image by Otto Nassar

Experimenting with variations, Betty Crocker eventually discovered that taking away the milk and the eggs from the mix, essentially asking the customers to put more effort into the baking, made the product a hit. This is where they discovered that people wanted to put their own personal touch to the cake they baked, effectively increasing the home-made authenticity of what they made.

This story shows two things where a clear link can be drawn between cake mixture and self-service BI:

Firstly, there is also the presence of a cognitive bias in self-service BI, which allows the user to perceive their own reports they build as being qualitatively higher than they are in reality. This bias is a powerful aspect of successful business adoption and plays a significant role in promoting self-service data analytics within the organisation. Users will be keener to sell and promote the analytics work they create and will naturally be keen to share all insights they discover. This can eventually lead to having self-service Qlik Sense promoting itself, almost going viral.

Secondly, the approach Betty Crocker eventually took is not just designing for ease and speed but focusing on designing an entire user experience. This is important in self-service Qlik Sense as the architect or developer should not only focus on delivering results but put equal focus on the fashion in which the results and insights are delivered to the end user.

The fact is that with self-service Qlik Sense and the close involvement of the end user in the development process, new psychological dynamics are introduced to the classic IT development process that need to be taken into account. It also reiterates the importance of forgetting some best practices in IT development in order be able to harness the new possibilities and the new approach to data analytics which come with self-service BI.

This blog post features examples from Mastering Qlik Sense by Martin Mahler and Juan Ignacio Vitantonio.

Check back next week for a piece on user types in a self-service environment.