Agile is like Big Data – a buzzword that has been around for a couple of years already, but in the end, many people don’t know precisely what it is or how it works. Let’s start by putting everyone on the same level and recap the basics of the Agile method.
Agile consists of an iterative approach to software development that builds the software incrementally – meaning that from the start of the project, step by step. A little bit of it is delivered at different stages instead of delivering it all at once. It is like filling one glass of water after another instead of giving away a full tank. Agile breaks down the project into little glasses of water; these bits of user functionality, called user stories, ranks them according to their priority and delivers them continuously in short cycles of two weeks: the iterations.
Now, even if the roots of this method lie in software development, it is quickly becoming the standard approach to all types of project management. Applying this method to business intelligence (BI) projects is just a stone’s throw away— let’s go over the steps to introduce Agile to your BI projects.
Step One: Raise Awareness and Introduce the Methodology
When embarking your whole crew on the Agile journey, it is important to start with awareness sessions that introduce the methodology and how it works to make sure everyone knows what is coming next and what will change in their ways of working.
Humans are instinctively reluctant to change, all the more when they don’t know what type of change is coming. Initiating playful and casual agile sessions can be a way of doing so, as we have seen many workshops flowering over the past years in offices around the world.
These games and workshops introduce the different methodologies used for Agile development, from Lean development to Scrum. For the basic Agile methodology, the framework can vary but the underlying approach is the same. In a nutshell, you start with a concept stage where you develop a loose BI vision, drawn out on a whiteboard for instance. Then comes the inception stage, which is critical as you first implement active stakeholder participation. You then start to construct iterations, by delivering a workshop system meeting the evolution of needs of your stakeholders and go back and forth from this construction stage to the next one during one to three weeks. In that next stage, which is called the transition stage or ‘end game’, you release the previous construction iteration into production and then go back to iteration, then to transition, and release these changes to production. Finally, the last stage of production is where you will support and operate all that came out of the construction and transition stages, and where you identify defects and enhancements. You can find a lot of guides to agile BI development online.
Step Two: Onboard Everyone and Recruit the Right People
When leaders’ working practices are the same as everyone else, it sends an important message and shows commitment to the new agile strategy. An agile manager will not just direct his peers to do this and that, but also act as a shepherd – providing leadership without formal power. Soft skills such as diplomacy, listening, change-readiness, flexibility, and team-building are important to ensure effective communication that will spread the information and not leave anyone out. Such communication will also be constructive thanks to diplomacy and listening skills.
Likewise, in addition to the managers, it’s important to find agile enthusiasts and champions throughout the whole organization, who will help with the methods, mindset, and spread the best practices. There are always some extroverts who cannot wait to move to the new agile workplace and escape formal processes. With these people in your team, change will happen in better conditions – consider onboarding them for a pilot program as well, so that they can spread the word. These enthusiasts are important to foster the new ways of working and to create opportunities to collaborate.
Step Three: Implement The Right Technology
As a business intelligence manager, you work with a continuous flow of data that needs to be cleaned and analyzed in order to get actual value from it. To help you in the matter, an online reporting tool is a best practice. Its inherent collaborative nature blends perfectly with the environment you want to implement on your Agile journey. Be careful when choosing it as it won’t be of any help if the software is stuck in traditional methods. Make sure it supports quick iterations and collaboration in order to foster active participation of everyone involved, but also to easily publish reports: the whole point of Agile is to get the product out there. Finding the right tool that lets you quickly deploy dashboards and reports is key.
Step Four: Get Started!
Once the mindset, tools, and environment are in the right conditions to welcome Agile, it is time to implement it! There are countless articles out there helping you with the different methodologies – Scrum Master, Product Owner, etc. –, so hopefully there should be one fitting your needs. Likewise, many different project management tools can help you become agile.
Start with assessing your current state: what you know about the work you need to do (Project goals? End result? Customers?), and how well your company currently handles change and collaboration. All of this will help you understand where you are standing now and determine if you need training and coaching, or if you are ready to handle it internally.
Agile is definitely a crucial option to consider for your BI project, as it aligns the efforts of a BI strategy more closely with those of business users, who get the results they need. With Agile BI, your business can more easily and smoothly adapt to its changing needs and operating environment. You will not just build and develop things quickly, but build and develop the right things quickly. Creating the right supportive environment with the right technology is an essential prerequisite for the success of Agile BI, that lay solid foundations for your future projects to thrive.