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Driving Powerful Partnerships with Agile BI (Part 1 of 2)

A major contributing factor to successful agile BI projects is a strong partnership between business and IT organizations.

By definition, agile business intelligence (BI) is the process of accelerating or improving the outcomes of BI projects by using an agile project management methodology. When I look at the projects I've managed over the years, utilizing both waterfall (traditional) and agile methodologies, I have learned many defining attributes of agile BI.

Among successful agile BI teams I see a common thread: partnership -- meaningful partnership -- between IT departments and their business counterparts.

A partnership certainly can exist in a waterfall BI project and can be missing from your agile BI project. Striving for effective partnership is a universal success factor; however, the agile framework gives you more tools for building better partnership practices and relationships.

Following are some lessons I learned from seeing optimized agile BI teams in action.

Lesson #1: One step at a time is fine and improves the outcome in the end

One key thought business owners of BI projects often have when first considering an agile approach is, "the end result is not clear enough." They may not understand the value of iterative development until it is realized in action.

Business owners are usually guarded against the extreme "boiling the ocean" approach, but they can be equally leery of small sprints, seeing that approach as the opposite extreme. Building trust in an iterative development approach can occur quickly, however, when you focus on getting the "low-hanging fruit" that is usually delayed with non-agile approaches.

Lesson #2: Short deliveries simplify the entire development life cycle and give you more flexibility

The agile framework is based on many short sprints. Shorter delivery cycles can promote certain benefits, including lower risk in both changes and new functionality. We can see how lower-risk deliveries lead to simple and flexible practices when we consider testing.

When your BI project is mission critical and integrated into your operational processes, proper testing is vital regardless of the project management framework used. However, if you have a trusted relationship between business and IT, you can consider new or different approaches to your testing.

For example, you can use a production beta release with limited user populations before going prime time, greatly reducing the testing cycle. Another example is to test the past sprint in parallel with the current sprint delivery to keep momentum going. You should only consider these approaches low-risk when they are related to smaller-impact changes as opposed to a sizable delivery where too many things can go wrong.

Under these examples, partnership empowers the teams to work together for the greater good in low-risk scenarios.

Lesson #3: When both success and failure are linked to a joined business and IT team, there is no one to blame for negative outcomes

Historically, a common relationship model between business and IT teams is for the business owner to be defined as the "customer." This helps drive IT departments to provide high-value service, but also can be extremely limiting if you follow the principle, "the customer is always right."

Agile helps you break free from this model by giving both parties strong ownership of the complete end-to-end process. Agile BI helps promote a co-ownership mentality between working teams. Sharing in the success and failure means both parties must rely more on each other and are less likely to blame each other when things don't go as planned.

A Spirit of Unity

Using an agile BI framework and having a strong spirit of unity across business and IT -- including executives and working level teams -- ultimately leads to project success. Agile BI should not be looked at just as a way to achieve faster results but as a way to achieve better results, driving more meaningful business impact and value. In Part 2 of this discussion, we will look at key ways you can improve the partnership between IT departments and business teams in support of your agile BI project.

[Editor's note: Read part 2 of the discussion here.]

About the Author

Wes Flores of McKnight Consulting Group has over 20 years of experience in the data management field. Specializing in the areas of enterprise data warehousing, MDM, analytics and BI programs, he has worked mid-sized to Fortune 15 companies with a passion in promoting data as an asset. You can contact the author at Wflores@mcknightcg.com.

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