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Principle of Proximity: THE Best Practice in BI

After 15 years in the business intelligence industry, I’ve hit the mother lode: I’ve discovered the true secret to BI success. It’s really quite simple, and it’s been staring at us for years. It’s the principle of proximity.

By proximity, I mean seating your BI developers next to your business experts. Not just in a joint-application design session, a requirements interview, or scrum stand-up, but ALL THE TIME! Make them work side by side, elbow to elbow, nose to nose. It doesn’t work to merely locate them on the same campus or in the same building. You need to put them in the same cubicle block, or better yet, in one big room with no walls so everyone can see, hear, smell, and touch everyone else all the time. Radical, but effective.

And don’t mistake me: I’m not talking about business requirements analysts--I’m talking about developers who write the code and design the models. Yes, make the developers get the requirements right from the horse’s mouth. Don’t force them to learn requirements second hand through a business requirements analyst. Trust me, something always gets lost in translation.

To develop awesome BI applications, you have to function like a small start up where there are no departments or organizational boundaries, no separatejargon or incentives, no separate managers or objectives, and NO WALLS. Just one big, messy, energetic, on-the-same-wavelength family that gets things done. And fast.

Role of Agile. I like agile software development methods. They come as close as any methodology to approximating the principle of proximity. If nothing else, go agile. Create a small team of business and technical people and make them do stand-up meetings daily, if not hourly! And hold them jointly accountable for the outcome.

But as good as agile can be, proximity is better. Why? When you place developers and business experts in the same room, they almost don’t need to talk. They absorb what they need to know by osmosis, and they learn to respect what each group needs to do to succeed. And fewer meetings make happier, more productive people.

Several years ago, Wes Flores, a technology manager at Verizon, told me the secret of his group’s success: “We sit side by side with business people and report into the same leadership. The only difference is that we specialize in the data and they specialize in the business process.”

So if you want to succeed at BI, reassign your business requirements analysts and immerse your BI developers in the physical heart of the business by applying the principle of proximity.

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on January 7, 2010


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