The first series of business intelligence collaboration (BI-C) articles presented by Chicago Business Intelligence Group (CBIG) focused on planning a BI-C environment. The four domains of BI-C were discussed: people, process, technology and information. This series of articles attempts to make the presented concepts tangible by defining the steps necessary to implement them.
To varying degrees, the following phases occur in all BI initiatives: discovery, analysis, design, development, deployment and maintenance.
While the details of each phase are not explored in this article, the need for a cohesive methodology is essential and must be emphasized.
In conjunction with the discovery phase, project planning and setup are critical components of establishing any BI-C initiative. Similar to a house built on a poor foundation, lack of proper planning and infrastructure can lead to future breakdowns. Taking the time to adequately set up the project and using a proven methodology and framework are ways an organization can increase the likelihood of success.
Establishing the project infrastructure for your BI-C initiative should include the following activities:
- Establish the project,
- Identify and establish team and structure,
- Define communication lines,
- Establish tracking mechanisms,
- Build project repositories, and
- Set appropriate alerts.
Establish the Project
The first step in implementing an effective BI-C initiative is to establish the project. For starters, the project must be named with its objectives and mission in place. At face value, this step would appear to be the easiest. In actuality, it is likely the most difficult because it requires that stakeholders have identified the need for a project and are ready to act on it. Two things are important about this step. First, the business case, mission and objectives are documented so they can be used for guidance throughout the project. Second, the project becomes official. People quickly become aware that resources are being expended with real value to be gained.
Identify and Establish Team and Structure
Establishing a team is more than putting analysts and developers on a project plan. It involves communicating to all parties about roles, responsibilities and accountability. This includes the CIO, CTO, business sponsors, program managers, project managers, technical architects, data architects, business analysts, system analysts, DBAs, technical advisors, third parties, etc. At some point, each person will have a function on the project, whether its responsibility for the budget, delivery or day-to-day tasks. Assigning that role and having reciprocal agreement and accountability for the responsibilities of that role are essential to getting that job done.
Define Communication Lines
One of the biggest issues on any project is communication. Frequently, stakeholders are not kept in the loop. Team members receive too many communications that do not even apply to them. Efficient communication lines and mechanisms are critical to a projects success.
After each party is identified, establishing the appropriate communication paths allows everyone to be accountable for their role. Each team member is aware of who they are responsible for and to. Status is provided and rolled up the chain. When these standards are in place, each step in the hierarchy is merely an add-on and/or summary of the lower levels. When issues arise, the appropriate escalation paths are built into the process. When designs and other deliverables are completed, sign-off parties are seamlessly notified for approval. Contrary to most project engagements where communication lines and paths are set up on the fly, each of these aspects of a project should be set up at project initiation, saving administrative time and costly delays later.
Establishing a steering committee is another important activity that must happen in the early, formative stages of the project. The steering committee should consist of key stakeholders, preferably with varying degrees of interest in the success of the project. The purpose of the steering committee includes providing oversight and guidance/direction for decisions that may jeopardize the overall delivery of the project as defined in the establish the project phase. This includes influencing key decisions on how to address critical issues, risks, scope changes and/or schedule impacts. If established correctly, a steering committee can provide the necessary oversight, influence and help garner strategic buy-in to enable project success.
Establish Tracking Mechanisms
As displayed in Figure 1 at the end of this article, there are six major phases to a BI initiative. True BI-C initiatives ensure touchpoints exist at each step so nothing falls through the cracks. The needs identified in the discovery phase must translate into requirements. The requirements must then be designed, developed, deployed and so on. The only way to ensure that the appropriate touchpoints occur is by having them built into the plan and defining the mechanism by which the tracking is performed. How can you ensure that all of the things identified in the CFO interview will make it into a requirement? Further down the line, how can you guarantee that a system feature that has been deployed maps to an originally identified need? To effectively do this requires keeping a tight inventory at each step in the process.
Build Project Repositories
Each and every document produced must be organized and stored in a central repository for the project. Additionally, each party on the project should be able to publish and access these documents within their authority. Confidential documents such as budgets, project costs, etc. should be accessible based on project role. Design documents should be identifiable based on status, creator, etc. Issues should be able to be filtered and sorted so they are easily retrieved. Every item generated by the project should contain context so team members can easily retrieve the right documents at the right time. In addition to providing a cohesiveness and tangibility to the project itself, a central repository for all pertinent project artifacts helps to maintain document integrity and version control.
Set Appropriate Alerts
One of the most important facets of a project is its fluidity. Projects are a series of events executed by a team of people working together to achieve a common goal and with deadlines to meet. Deadlines are met when the people meeting them are aware and involved in the process. Traditionally, project teams rely on status reports and meetings to drive project execution. This alone is inefficient. It is important to set up the necessary triggers so the right person is notified when action is required. For example, as a business analyst, I want my project manager to review my requirements document when I mark it complete and ready for review. As a developer, I want to know when the data model has been approved so I can begin construction. The entire project team should have visibility to the status of their efforts and how these activities impact key project milestones, including when those milestones are met. These alerts are vital to keeping everybody up to date and on the same page throughout the initiative.
In summary, the first step in implementing a successful BI-C initiative is to create the necessary foundation upon which the project can be established and executed. Completing setup and planning activities consists of: establishing the project itself; defining the project team, roles and responsibilities, and communication lines; and defining and enabling the necessary processes to support ongoing monitoring, tracking and storage of project status and documentation.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, many organizations are increasingly turning to proven methodologies and/or tools created specifically for BI-C initiatives. Out of the box, established methodologies and tools can help to steer your initiative in the right direction by providing a proven, ready-to-use framework for your engagement. Once planning and setup have been achieved, your project team will have the infrastructure in place to understand their objectives, effectively communicate, share information and deliver business results. Start your BI-C project off right - proper planning and setup will help to ensure your BI-C house has a solid foundation.
Part 2 of this series will explore the details of executing a successful BI-C initiative, including defining the steps necessary for team members to execute and account for their work from start to finish. Specifically, Part 2 will focus on the data gathering and workflow needed at each stage of a project to meet its stated objectives.
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