I was reading through the blogosphere his morning and came across some interesting observations on Agile BI. Basically, the author threw out the question, "what would our children turn out like if we raised them like we create BI systems?" The authors contention is that most people treat BI like a protected entity until it is absolutely ready for consumption, and even then rolls it out in a very limited fashion.
This got me to thinking about what Agile really means in the context of BI systems. The way I see it, Agile and BI are so naturally complimentary that you almost have to embrace agile in order to build and deploy a successful BI system. BI systems are all about condensing data into usable information then helping the consumer to develop that information into workable knowledge. Everyone who's ever built a BI system knows that the best measure of success in BI is how well that knowledge is used to close the loop and affect change on the processes that the BI system measures. If this doesn't scream "agile, iterative development" I really don't know what does. Consider the following tenets of agile programming:
- Individual Interactions over Processes and Tools
- Working Software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Now consider how they apply to a BI project:
- It doesn't matter what you use to build the product, it's all about understanding the requirements and working towards a system that fulfills those requirements.
- The system is going to change many times throughout the development lifecycle. Building a system that actually works and provides the output that the consumer needs is much, much more important that providing a manual and weeks of training.
- Understanding what the customers need is more important that telling them what you're going to build.
- See the second bullet. The system is going to change. The information needed to form knowledge will change. The desired output will change. The loop that you're trying to close will change. Everything changes.
I always tell my team that it is OK to be uncomfortable during the development cycle. As a matter of fact, I try and make sure that they ARE uncomfortable because that tells me that they're pushing the envelope. Waterfall methodologies just don't work in a BI world, and while agile can lead to discomfort, I really believe that the end result is well worth it.