Dan Ingle discusses the keys to analytic success ...

My keys to success are pretty straightforward: 1) build things iteratively and incrementally using an agile development process, 2) adapt to circumstances and not be wedded to a particular solution or methodology, and 3) foster teamwork to increase productivity and effectiveness.

Agile development. When I started in this space, I saw quite a few data warehousing projects blow up because they used a traditional development approach with an extended project timeline. To avoid that, I began applying rapid prototyping techniques. I’d quickly gather requirements for a subject area, deliver a working prototype in a few weeks, and make rapid adjustments, if needed. In essence, I was following the tenets of Scrum before the term came into vogue. Since then, I’ve adopted Scrum in a big way, adapting the methodology to data warehousing and business intelligence solutions. Typically, we use three-week sprints, storyboards, and small self-organizing teams to deliver working code based on user priorities. We also co-locate the developers and business users during the duration of the effort. It works really well and makes logical sense.

Openness. Another key is to adapt your approach to the circumstances. I see a lot of people who are wed to a particular technology, vendor, or methodology because that’s what they’ve known and made them successful. It’s also easier and seemingly less risky to use something tried and true, rather than something new.

For instance, when I joined Kelley Blue Book, we were heavily vested in the Microsoft platform. We had many Microsoft products in house and plenty of people with Microsoft expertise. At the time, I couldn’t imagine using a database other than Microsoft SQL Server, but we were also looking to scale up our environment to support much larger data volumes. One member of our team had experience with analytic appliances at a prior company, so we decided to evaluate several products. We trusted the findings of our proofs of concept, and ended up purchasing our first IBM Netezza appliance to power our data warehouse and other environments. That was one of the best decisions we made.

Teamwork. Finally, teamwork is essential to our success. We hold classes on teamwork and put our folks through various exercises—some of which are not for the fainthearted. The classes teach people how to communicate, ask questions when they don’t understand something and open up to each other. Without a foundation of trust, a team can’t work together effectively and its productivity suffers. Our focus on teamwork complements our agile approach to application development.

This is an excerpt from the book, Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders,” by Wayne Eckerson. To read more from the book, click here.

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