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How To Keep Your Business Intelligence (BI) Project On Track Using Agile

In an earlier post I covered How to Get Started with Agile Business Intelligence (BI). For those of you who already completed the first two steps (assessing your current state, selecting an Agile methodology), this post will cover how to officially begin the project on the right foot, and then how to keep everything on track. […]

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October 28, 2013

In an earlier post I covered How to Get Started with Agile Business Intelligence (BI). For those of you who already completed the first two steps (assessing your current state, selecting an Agile methodology), this post will cover how to officially begin the project on the right foot, and then how to keep everything on track. We’ll frame the tips using one of the most popular Agile methodologies, Scrum.

Step Three: Have a Kick Off

Now that you’ve selected a methodology and have a team in place, it’s time to get started! One easy way to do this is to schedule a kick-off.

Schedule a kick-off meeting with the whole team to review how your team is going to use Agile and Scrum. You will want to discuss the following topics:

  1. The meetings (aka Scrum ceremonies – daily standups, planning sessions, reviews, retrospectives, etc.) that the team will need to participate in.
  2. The initial release plan and product backlog (or the plan to create these artifacts). In addition, review what a typical user story will include or work together to derive a few examples. BI and DW teams may find this particularly challenging because we typically break our work down into technical tasks sequenced logically – database design then ETL then reporting. The focus of each user story should be on providing business value and the team will need to figure out how to achieve that business value in a single sprint. This will involve collaboration between the team and the business to scope the business value in each story to something the team can complete.
  3. The duration of each sprint. Two week sprints are most common, though up to four weeks is considered acceptable.
  4. The team’s definition of done. Agile software projects focus on delivering working software. The team needs to determine what that means to them on a BI and DW project. At a minimum, the acceptance criteria in a user story must be met, resulting in business value. The team may choose to add additional criteria to their definition of done such as creating standard definitions for any new data added to the DW and updating source-to-target mappings for data transformations.

Step Four: Inspect and Adapt

Once your team starts sprinting, they should plan to meet to reflect on the work of each sprint and any challenges that they may have encountered.  For example, on a BI project, you may learn that there is some foundational analysis that needs to be completed before you provide business value out of the data and you may decide as a team to create spikes of a set duration to perform that analysis one sprint ahead of doing the implementation work. You may find that there is a bottleneck getting ETL code done and you may decide to address that with more cross functional training.

You will certainly find challenges unique to your technical and functional environments and this time of reflection will enable you to inspect what has and has not been working and adapt to improve. BI teams should recognize the similarities between this process and how metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are often used. For example, your management team may track sales by special promotion to see which special promotions work to increase sales. Then they adapt to improve or eliminate the ones that don’t work and continue to use the ones that do.

Regularly reflecting on your work will help you become a better, more Agile and adaptive team. For more on conducting retrospectives, check out our blog posts on why retrospectives are important and three techniques to use for a retrospective.

Putting It All Together

We are positive that Agile methodologies will help your BI team focus on bringing in the data needed right now, prepare to adapt to new database requirements, and deliver access to the data early and often.

Now we want to hear from you: what ways have you used Agile and Scrum to help start a BI project and keep it on track? What questions do you have about how to implement Scrum on a BI project?

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