Reprinted with permission from Media 1105, Inc. Originally published May 4, 2017 – TDWI Flashpoint Article
Agile business intelligence (BI) teams typically designate one person as the product owner (PO) whose role entails: (1) defining and prioritizing the user stories (business needs) to be delivered by the BI team; (2) being available to the team daily to answer questions and resolve issues; and (3) reviewing and then accepting or rejecting the finished products. This role is one of the most difficult to perform on an agile BI team due to the challenge of prioritization. Even so, new POs who lean on classes of service find their prioritization work goes more smoothly, and they can instead focus their attention on the proper definition of user stories for creating business value.
Classes of service optimize the priority and movement of work through the team and are akin to a busy highway with its designated exit-only, express, or high-occupancy travel lanes. The term originally came from the telecom world: “When a network experiences congestion and delay, some packets must be prioritized to avoid random loss of data. Class of service (CoS) (also known as QoS) accomplishes this prioritization by dividing similar types of traffic, such as e-mail, streaming video, voice, large document file transfer, into classes. You then apply different levels of priority, such as those for throughput and packet loss, to each group, and thereby control traffic behavior.”1
One team I work with supports several business functions. Although the team’s primary role is to deliver new BI- and analytics-based components of large initiatives within any of the departments it serves, it is also responsible for supporting and enhancing analytics programs already in production. This breadth of responsibility leaves the PO in a difficult position when it comes to prioritizing customer requests.
To reduce tension and provide strategic guidance, the BI director worked with her business counterparts to define the classes of service and related prioritization approach for the BI PO to employ (see Table). This group also agreed that within each class of service the various requests would be addressed using the first-in, first-out (FIFO) approach, whereby the team would finish one request before starting the next in order of original request date. What’s important here is not the priority order of requests but the understanding and agreement gained in developing this process.
Table. This company’s large initiatives still go through a traditional stage gate process for corporate sponsorship, funding, and project management, whereby gate 0 indicates the initial idea for the project and gate 6 is the final gate prior to production deployment.
Classes of service is a concept that can help a new PO get past the fear of prioritizing incorrectly. These classes also remove the emotion and tension that come from prioritizing based on less specific criteria (such as gut feelings or politics). However, as the team increases in agile maturity, the detail in this example may no longer serve a good purpose. Eventually, I’d like to see this team have at most three classes of service: (1) expedited items that must get done ASAP, (2) declined requests, and (3) everything else (prioritized using FIFO). Teams that follow this approach focus their regular retrospectives on how to improve the flow of all items by measuring cycle times and addressing bottlenecks.
As a new PO with multiple constituents, utilizing agreed-upon classes of service can assist with both determining what work the agile BI team should work on and in what order of priority. This approach can reduce the amount of time (and stress!) spent on prioritizing the work and allows the PO to focus more on value-added activities (such as detailed requirements analysis and answering questions daily), so the value is delivered to the business as soon as possible. The alternative to prioritizing based on classes of service involves more regular stakeholder involvement while providing more flexibility to adapt to changing business needs.
1 Juniper Networks . “Understanding Class of Service (CoS) Profiles,” September 29. www.juniper.net/documentation/en_US/junos-spaceapps/network-director3.0/topics/concept/cos-profile-understanding.htm