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Developing your agile analytics approach

Agile project management is a multifaceted topic, and as such, there is far too much information to cover in one article. This article is the first part in a series to go over the benefits, approach and structure of using the agile methodology for analytics projects. For more information on this topic, read Optimizing your agile analytics scrum team.  

Author: Christie Vick

Most businesses have vast amounts of company and consumer data; some are unsure of what they have, while others are unable to leverage theirs into strategic insights and take appropriate action. However, there are many that have already engaged in an analytics or data science project to collect, manage and apply such data.  

Yet, not all analytics projects are successful in getting that valuable data into business users’ hands. As a business leader, can you imagine some statements you would not want to hear from stakeholders after engaging in such a project? Perhaps they are:

  • “This is not what we asked for”
  • “Why did this take so long?”
  • “Isn’t [insert department or individual’s name here] providing this already?”

These kinds of reactions can be personally discouraging and even detrimental to such projects and the teams that work on those. So, what can be done to try and avoid this? Leveraging an agile project management methodology that engages users early and often, allowing for changes based on feedback, is a valuable tool in successful analytics project delivery.

What is an agile project management method?

Agile project management takes an iterative approach, relying on and incorporating user feedback in each release cycle. As such, the highest priority in agile is, “to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software (1).” However, this methodology does not apply solely to software development. The key points of the Agile Manifesto apply directly to delivering analytics to business users (2):

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The agile approach

Agile teams work in delivery cycles called sprints. Sprints represent a single development and release cycle, focused on continuous, iterative delivery. The length of sprints is consistent over time, with a common timeframe being two weeks. This allows enough time for the team to build useful functionality and gives the business a quick enough turnaround to ensure ad-hoc requests do not distract the development team. There are several standard ceremonies within a sprint: planning, retrospective, daily scrum and review (3). These activities help drive the desired feedback and cadence:

  • Planning: Planning meetings are conducted at the beginning of each sprint cycle. They are used to establish the sprint backlog and assign a level of effort to each user story. Planning meetings may also include a retrospective.
  • Retrospective: The retrospective is used to get feedback from the team around how the last sprint went and what things can be done to improve it. The goal of the retrospective is to continually work to improve the overall development process.
  • Daily scrum: These meetings are used to give a daily status updated throughout the sprint. Daily scrums are not to be used to solve problems, but raise them.
  • Review: Sprint reviews are held at the end of the sprint and are meant to discuss the latest development efforts and deployments. This is not a status update for business users, but rather an opportunity for the development team to collaborate with stakeholders on what was done and what should be done during upcoming sprints. Demos are especially useful in these meetings to keep stakeholders informed and engaged in the process. The goal would be to illicit feedback in order to make necessary updates to the backlog, which would then be discussed in subsequent sprint planning.

The benefits of agile analytics

While business models and project goals vary, this approach continues to be successful because of its ability to adapt and pivot to fit current and future business priorities or requirements. Some other significant benefits in utilizing the agile scrum methodology and organizing scrum teams are:

  • Earlier return on investment
  • Higher customer satisfaction 
  • Cross-functional collaboration and on-going alignment

This approach is advantageous because feedback and cadence are prevalent:

  • Feedback is crucial for the development team to know they are on track. It also allows business users to buy in early on the value that is created from the solution. Feedback within the development process is also crucial to ensuring that developers are working on the highest priority items.
  • Cadence refers to the communication and delivery cycle both inside and outside the core development team. A reasonable solution delivery cadence helps set expectations with business users. A set cadence also improves the overall efficiency of the development team as it allows them to focus on development for a set period.

Preparing your business for agility
While the benefits of applying agile to analytics project delivery are clear, the transition from other project management methodologies, like waterfall or kan ban, does not happen overnight. There are numerous guides available to help organizations through this change and we can help. Baker Tilly professionals are adept at implementing the agile scrum methodology and organizing teams while keeping your future business goals at the forefront of every decision.

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