The theme of the upcoming TDWI World Conference in San Diego is “Creating an Agile BI Environment — Delivering Data at the Speed of Thought,” a scary proposition depending on who’s doing the thinking. I planning on chatting up attendees and hearing their experiences with agile, borrowing a line from Dr. Phil: “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

I like agile. I like to think that Baseline Consulting helped to pioneer agile BI in practice via our BI Portfolio service. This service lets companies package BI as a set of business capabilities deployed over time. These business capabilities become BI applications that, depending on their complexity, can be thinly sliced and quickly deployed. This lets BI development organizations keep it warm with their end-users, and it lets end-users participate in delivery prioritization. Our rule-of-thumb: Either new BI functionality or new data deployed (at least) every 60-90 days. The approach establishes BI as a program, greater than the sum of its parts.

One of the problems with agile BI is its inherent meaning. Is it an agile BI “environment,” as TDWI’s conference slogan says? Is it agile BI “technology,” the underpinning of successful agile development, as Forrester analyst Boris Evelson wrote in a recent report? Or is it, as we advocate to our clients, a delivery process? I agree with my friend Stephen Swoyer, who wrote earlier this month that “…one doesn’t buy agile—one does (one in effect becomes) agile.”

Boris is right that the advent of newer, easier to deploy BI tools is a key ingredient in the agile BI recipe. And certainly the emergence of BI in the cloud can speed up report development, as TDWI’s Wayne Eckerson wrote in an excellent article. But in my experience if the organization embracing agile BI never had established BI development processes in the first place, agile BI can be a road to nowhere.

In fact, the dirty little secret of agile BI is this: It’s companies that don’t have the discipline to enforce BI development rigor in the first place that hurl themselves toward agile BI.

Peek under the covers of an agile BI shop and you’ll often find dozens or even hundreds of repeatable canned BI reports, but nary an advanced analytics capability. You’ll probably discover an IT organization that failed to cultivate solid relationships with business users and is now hiding behind an agile vocabulary to justify its own organizational ADD. It’s lack of accountability, failure to manage a deliberate pipeline, and shifting work priorities packaged up as so much scrum.

There. I said it. If you want to throw tomatoes (no root vegetables, please—they hurt!), I’ll be teaching workshops at TDWI San Diego on Sunday and again on Tuesday. I’ll be popping in on the Executive Summit on Wednesday to hear some agile BI success stories. Such as they are.

Jill also blogs at

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