What BI Teams Need in an Agile Coach
by Lynn Winterboer Agile Analytics Educator & Coach
Reprinted with permission from Media 1105, Inc. Originally published April 7, 2016 – TDWI Flashpoint Article
Working in Agile Data Warehousing (DW) and Business Intelligence (BI) over many years, I’ve worked with a lot of teams and coaches. There are three hallmarks of a good Agile BI coach that teams should consider when looking for a coach.
1. A good Agile BI coach understands the unique challenges faced by BI teams.
Agile coaches accustomed to working with software development teams (e.g., Web or mobile) often struggle to get their points across when coaching BI teams. The biggest hurdle is the difference in semantics. Although a Web team, for example, might refer to the regular movement of data from one place to another as an API (application programming interface), the BI industry refers to this function as ETL (extract, transform, and load). Coaches who have a deep repertoire of software examples to illustrate Agile concepts to their teams will find that many of their examples will frustrate the BI teams because of the disconnect between the Web/mobile examples and the daily data-focused work of the BI team. What’s more, without understanding the various aspects of BI work, it’s difficult for a coach to understand and answer questions.
2. A good Agile coach prevents BI teams from making exceptions.
The strongest coaches I’ve seen excel at helping teams “hold the Agile process.” They help their teams resist the temptation to make exceptions. A BI team with multiple stakeholders, specialized tools and related skill sets, and large volumes of data certainly faces more challenges than other IT teams. I can understand why it’s tempting to say, “We’re different, and therefore we can’t adhere to [Agile value here].” A good coach, however, will help the team think this through and find ways to adhere to the core values and principles of an Agile approach.
For instance, many BI teams don’t think it’s possible to frequently deliver working BI results for business review and feedback. Yet, a coach who understands the BI value chain—from source system all the way through to reports and dashboards—can help the team break the work effort into smaller, testable pieces of functionality that the business can review every few weeks.
3. A good Agile coach will ensure testing at the beginning of the project.
I’ve seen data teams try to develop a “mini waterfall” within each iteration, leaving all testing of functionality to the end. This practice shortchanges the testing activities (just as it does in a traditional waterfall process), and it goes against the grain of the Agile principle of continuous attention to technical excellence. It’s very difficult to deliver technically excellent code when it hasn’t been well tested. A good Agile coach will help the team understand how to start thinking about testing from the very start, as well as how to finish the higher-priority functionality, including testing, before starting work on the next-in-line priority.
Many BI teams recognize the value their software development colleagues are getting from using Agile approaches to their work. They want that experience for themselves, but they need the right coaching to help them on their journey. Among other talents, a good Agile coach will understand BI challenges and semantics; keep the team from making exceptions to any of the core principles of Agile; and ensure the team focuses on testing from the beginning of each development effort.