The Agile development approach to data management and business intelligence (BI) projects is seeing greater take up by CIOs as public and private sector firms demand faster, more measurable returns on their information investments.
An Agile approach can be used to incrementally add business value and if deployed correctly, can return great benefits to any organisation.
Unlike the traditional waterfall methodology, where planning is all done upfront, Agile IM delivery folds 80 per cent of planning into the actual program deployment. This not only gets projects off the ground faster and gives the business results sooner, but yields much better requirements, so the effectiveness of the development team increases dramatically.
The success of the Agile movement has pushed thinking in a few areas of information management, and we expect to see continued growth in popularity of the Agile approach throughout 2015.
One of the key benefits of Agile is that business users start to see value delivered quickly. The idea is to release a solution to business users as quickly as possible, and then incrementally improve it with each future release.
This might sound straight forward but there are some challenges that Agile projects will face. In my experience, one of the major challenges to a successful Agile BI project is having effective product owners in place to help the project deliver value to the business.
The role of the product owner
Product owners are essential to the process and success of an Agile BI project. These people are subject matter experts from within the organisation who not only know the details of the project, but also have deep insight into the various business units involved.
Product owners help to break the overall vision of the project into those small, incrementally deliverable chunks. They are also vital to the important task of communicating the status of the project and deliverables to the broader business stakeholders.
As the strongest advocate of the project, product managers are constantly supporting and ‘selling’ the project internally while continually updating teams across the organisation.
Product owners work on a day by day basis to help resolve issues as they arise and make decisions on those issues based on the value delivered. They are also the member of the project team responsible for performing user acceptance testing on the incremental deliverables every few weeks.
Setting up for success
When it comes to Agile projects, product owners have the power to either cement, or indeed hamper, a successful outcome.
The challenge we frequently see facing many Agile BI projects is the availability of the product owner. Too often they are still ensconced in their regular role so they aren’t able to make enough time to support the project delivery team.
One of the most important things a CIO can do to ensure the success of an Agile project is to understand the necessity of having the right person in the product owner role and freeing them up to provide the required support for the project.
At the core of the product owner role, the person in this position should:
- Be available to the project as much as possible
- Have the authority and decisiveness to make business decisions
- Be a campaigner for the project.
To ensure the product owner can effectively manage these three key elements of the role, CIOs need to:
Choose the right person for the role. The product owner needs to be a subject matter expert related to the project. They must have knowledge of the business unit, knowledge of the project and its goals, and knowledge of the wider business and how the project will affect the business.
Get the executive team on board. Gain buy in from senior management to sponsor the product owner role and allow them to allocate the required level of time dedicated to the project.
Allocate and champion authority. As discussed earlier, it is important for the product owner to have a level of authority that allows them to make decisions on a daily basis affecting the direction and outcome of the project and resolve any issues as they arise.
As the primary campaigner for the project internally, it is important that product owners are championed by CIOs so that communication is frequent and effective, in both directions.
Recommend a 50/50 split. We find that a 50 per cent split works best. The product owner needs enough time to dedicate to the project but it is also important for them to continue with their regular role so they remain connected to the business unit in which they work.
Sponsor a location change. Project teams work best when they work together. For this reason, we recommend the product owner sits with the project team or IT team involved. Similarly to the split in hours, however, it is important for the product owner to also have a desk within their own department or business unit so that they can remain connected to the business while performing their regular role.
An Agile delivery approach has helped many organisations focus on the most important aspects of their information management and BI programs. The key to any Agile project is delivering business value incrementally, and the product owner is vital to this.
Getting the product owner right can not only help CIOs avoid roadblocks and hurdles throughout the project’s lifespan, but ensure the success of the entire project.
Tony Kenney is a partner at advanced analytics and business intelligence company, C3 Business Solutions.