The Best Project Management Methodology for Business Intelligence

business-intelligence-methodology

According to the Project Management Institute, Agile methodologies have become the gold standard for IT projects. 40% of organizations report using it most of the time. When companies just beginning to incorporate Agile are included that number jumps to 71%. These companies are responding to the sizeable increase in performance realized from Agile-guided projects, which are 28% more successful than those developed with more traditional methodologies.

The benefits of Agile aren’t limited to IT. Experts are starting to incorporate Agile ideology into other highly technical domains, most prominently business intelligence.

Agile methodologies have the potential to drive dynamic, responsive business intelligence processes.

What are the Core Values of Agile?

Agile sees a lot of use in software development, but its core principles have wide-ranging applicability. Consider the primary Agile characteristics:

  • Early, frequent delivery of usable products
  • Openness to change when doing so provides competitive advantage
  • Working solutions as a measure of progress
  • Sustainable development
  • Quality over quantity
  • Efficiency in planning and execution
  • Communication at all levels

At heart, Agile is about providing outstanding customer service and quality in as efficient and sustainable a manner as possible.

That has a lot of appeal for domains which can otherwise get bogged down in obscure details.

Business intelligence is one such field. It requires both technical skill and business savvy, and sometimes striking a balance between the two threatens to derail a promising project.

Challenges to Business Intelligence Projects

The term “business intelligence” covers a lot of ground.

It’s applied to a wide spectrum of techniques aimed at giving leaders the information they need to make logically sound, data-driven business decisions.

This includes finding inefficiencies and workarounds for them, cutting costs, increasing profit margins, and highlighting opportunities in time to act on them.

As might be expected from such an ambitious goal, business intelligence projects can have erratic success rates.

There are so many moving parts that one misstep potentially jeopardizes the entire project. Some of the most common reasons BI initiatives fail:

  • Data sources are insufficient or inaccurate
  • The final tool doesn’t meet the needs of users
  • Products take so long to create that they’re already outdated on release
  • Poor user experience ratings
  • Mismatched team schedules and technical philosophies

What’s the Best Methodology for Business Intelligence?

Taking Agile methodologies and incorporating them into BI projects makes it possible to mitigate or even avoid these problems altogether.

For instance, following the discovery process is a good way to create a comprehensive requirements list.

Gather all stakeholders together and find out what data they want or need on an ongoing basis. Look for overlapping needs as well as outliers.

Prioritize requirements as a group. Doing so makes the process transparent and reduces the risk of one category of stakeholders feeling minimized (which affects adoption rates).

Short, iterative sprints are excellent for breaking up obscure technical problems.  Emphasize creating something that can be used now and build on that.

Provide additional workable tools, processes, or data source at the end of each sprint. Think smaller in size but higher in quality for sprint scope.

Something that may work when stakeholders are skeptical: organize and prioritize projects by place in the business process to allow progress to build momentum.

As people see the value of Agile, they can more confidently embrace its methodologies.

One of Agile’s greatest strengths is regular feedback. Maintain an open channel of communication with those who will be using the project.

Welcome feedback and questions as a way to provide better data, and incorporate changes as they’re needed. Focus on user satisfaction as a measure of success.

Speaking of measuring success, the continual quality assurance process Agile recommends will keep business intelligence resources in top conditions.

Test systems throughout the development cycle to spot problems early, when they’re easiest to fix.

Schedule specific “source updating and validating” sprints at regular periods to eliminate the threat of using outdated data.

Aggressively seek out weaknesses to fix them as soon as possible. Tools that don’t work don’t get used, so proactive testing and repair protects the original investment.

Bending the Rules

A final word of caution: don’t get so dedicated to Agile that the business intelligence project suffers.

For example, many companies spend longer in the “discovery phase” than software developers might because business intelligence requirements tend to be highly complex.

Others have to go back over a testing phase to iron out a tricky component. That’s okay- if a certain part of the project needs more time, give it more time.

At the end of the day Agile is about results, not rules. Adopt the Agile concepts that offer an advantage and don’t stress over those that don’t apply.

There is more powerful business intelligence software on the market than ever, but all those incoming data streams can be overwhelming. Request a free consultation to find out how Concepta can organize all your business intelligence into an intuitive, customizable dashboard.

 

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10 Ways to Avoid Budget Overruns In Software Development

Budget Overruns-In-Software-Development

Fierce competition for clients has led to a change in the way software developers work. Rather than sending an estimate up front and billing the total cost at project’s end, they’re bidding the full amount they will charge for a project. Additional investments have to be agreed on in written change agreements.

As a result, every budget overrun cuts directly into the developer’s profits. It’s critical that executives work with their project managers to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

Towards that end, here are ten quick tips for keeping budget overruns under control.

Use Agile methodologies

Agile project management is a big reason software failure rates have begun falling for the first time in over a decade. The iterative development process allows for continual feedback and adjustment; small corrections early on have more impact than large changes later on.

Don’t skimp on the Discovery process

Extra time in discovery is the single most influential factor on a project’s success. Taking shortcuts here gives developers a handicap they may never overcome. Without taking time to see the big picture of what clients need, they can’t fully understand a project’s scope. The danger here is that developers could underbid and commit themselves to delivering more than they expected.

Be realistic about how much teams can get done in a sprint

Use historical performance information from similar projects rather than hopeful estimates. When possible use data from the actual team that would be doing the project.

Leave room for error

The most urgent goal may seem to be outbidding the direct competition, but never bid so low that it becomes impossible to deliver profitably. There are always surprises, so plan for them. Include dummy sprints in the budget and timeline to allow for unplanned changes. If they’re not needed, the client gets a pleasant surprise when their software is done early.

Use (and listen to) experienced project managers

80% of high-performing projects are led by a skilled project manager, so resist efforts by the client to trim costs by cutting the position from the budget. Listen to the project manager’s advice and experience during the budgeting phase. Empower them to keep up efficiency and morale within their team with as little micromanaging from above as possible.

Use project management software (and make sure it’s adopted throughout the team)

40% of companies don’t use project management-specific software to manage their projects. There is no reason to juggle spreadsheets and calendar apps when there are powerful, easy-to-use programs (like Basecamp) designed to keep projects orderly and on schedule.

Stay vigilant against scope creep

Don’t view scope creep as inevitable. After all, a thorough discovery process should minimize its effect. This doesn’t mean developers should refuse to make any changes at all; it’s more a reminder that the bid was calculated based on specific requirements. Agreeing to additions and changes outside the scope threatens the budget and the timeline. If a change will affect the project in a large way, go back to the customer and negotiate a change agreement to protect everyone’s interests.

Prioritize automated testing when appropriate 

Automated testing provides wider and more consistent coverage than manual testing. It allows developers to catch problems earlier, when they’re easier to fix. It isn’t applicable to every project, but it saves time and money when it is.

Utilize risk management techniques to mitigate problems as they arise 

Project managers should have both contingency and mitigation plans in place before a project starts. Contingency plans are meant to handle situations which are highly unlikely but could kill a project if they occur. Mitigation plans should minimize the effects of lesser situations which are more likely to appear.

Emphasize communications at all levels 

Communication is the key to staying on budget. There should be a continuous flow of information and feedback between clients and project managers, project managers and their teams, and project managers and senior leadership. Check in after each sprint at the very least. Having knowledge as early as it’s available puts developers in the best possible position to plan, adjust, and act.

It’s impossible to see the future, but following these guidelines lays the groundwork for being prepared to meet unexpected challenges as they arise.

At Concepta, we believe that what’s good for clients is good for developers. Projects that stay on budget can be delivered on time and at a higher quality than those that run over. To explore how much we can achieve within your company’s budget, set up a free consultation with one of our experienced representatives today!

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What To Look For In An IT Project Manager

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IT projects are finally seeing an improvement in success rates after years of struggle. According to 2017’s Pulse of the Profession report, companies are wasting 21% less money on failed IT projects than the year before.

Agile development methods are one contributing factor, but what really drives success is the leadership and organizational skills of experienced IT project managers.

A quality IT project manager sets the tone for how an entire project will proceed.

They mean the difference between a project that barely meets standards (or fails entirely) and a project that succeeds well past expectations.

In fact, 80% of high performing IT initiatives are led by trained project managers.

With results like that, it’s worth taking some time to explore how to spot a good project manager.

Why IT-Specific Project Managers Matter

Agile software development has shown its worth, but it does has a lot of moving parts. Project managers make sure all those diverse components come together to create a high quality end final product.

They handle regular management duties like coordinating with their team members, overseeing operational requirements, controlling costs, and ensuring quality.

On top of those, the Agile process involves frequent and detailed communication with clients.

IT projects in particular can be challenging to manage without specific technical management experience.

Those unused to managing software projects often don’t have the knowledge base to understand challenges presented by technology.

They can’t understand technical jargon, which makes it hard for them to serve as an intermediary between clients and engineers.

Non-technical PMs also have trouble managing sprints and adjusting a project’s overall scope in reaction to change.

Qualities of Good IT Project Managers

Hollywood is full of unconventional leaders and quirky team dynamics, but in the real world there are some traits found in every project manager.

  • Organized enough for the whole team: The best PMs are more than just tidy. They’re organized enough that everyone under and above them can easily understand the state of the project at any given time. While they can’t do every bookkeeping task for their team, they can reduce the complexity of tracking efforts so technical team members waste as little time as possible.
  • Facilitates good communication: Communication is key to successful software development, and project managers serves as the communication hub. PMs need the written and verbal skills to clarify client requirements, convey those to the developers, and translate technical concerns back to the client as needed. This requires at least a user-level understanding of technical jargon. Empathy is also critical. Project managers must foster relationships where clients and developers both feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns.
  • Strong business sense: Project managers go beyond just getting the project done. They make sure it gets done profitably for all involved. Having a good idea of the business value desired by a client allows them to develop with an eye towards maximizing that value. Plus, many development firms offer bundles or set package rates to stay competitive. Ballooning costs can’t be passed on to clients, so project managers must be absolutely on top of budgets. The best guideline is to look for PMs who are aware of where a project fits within both their own company’s business goals and their client’s digital strategy.
  • Encourages teamwork: Teamwork isn’t just a buzzword. Good software is built by good teams. A smart project manager recognizes and values every team member’s contributions. Rather than waiting for conflicts to impact productivity, project managers actively work to keep the work environment conducive to good morale and motivation. They should develop a detailed understanding of each member’s capabilities to make budget estimation and spotting potential problems easier.
  • Cool under pressure: This quality is hard to spot in an interview but easy to see in action. Project managers have to be able to calmly assess a chaotic situation and find the most efficient path through. Many a project has been saved from failure by the timely intervention of a project manager, so quick decision-making skills are also a must.

A final caution

97% of Fortune 500 companies say good project management is critical to project success – yet somehow, projects are still begun without an experienced PM at the head.

Nine times out of ten the reason for skipping the project manager is financial.

In the absence of experienced leadership, though, IT projects risk becoming one of the 17% of project that fail so badly they threaten a company’s future. They’re nearly guaranteed to run over schedule and cost more than twice their initial estimates.

That makes cutting out project management counterproductive as a cost-saving tactic.

The bottom line is simple: there is always room in the budget for project management.

At Concepta, our IT- trained project managers stay with teams from project to project, giving them a deeper rapport and more understanding of what their team can do. Set up a complimentary meeting to find out how you can harness their skills to turbocharge your next development project!

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How Switching to an Agile Approach Can Lead To More Successful Software Projects

successful software projects

Software development is a field with high project failure rates.

31% of software projects are cancelled before completion, and another 53% cost nearly twice their original budget.

That level of wasted investment isn’t sustainable in the long run.

For the first time in years, though, overall IT project success rates are starting to rise again.

Last year the Project Management Institute reported that global project success rates were higher than the year before, something that hasn’t happened since 2013.

The change comes partly from an increased use of Agile methodologies.

Compared to less responsive methods like Waterfall, Agile projects have higher customer satisfaction rates and are three times likelier to succeed.

What’s behind such a sizeable difference in outcomes?

Predictable Planning

Agile is an iterative approach where a large project is broken into “sprints” that each produce a workable Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or feature.

Sprints are short by nature. The average is two weeks, but anywhere from one to four weeks is common depending on the project at hand.

With timeboxed sprints clients know when the next deliverable will arrive.

It’s also easier to budget; pay can happen in smaller amounts throughout a project rather than having one large lump sum due at the end.

Richer Collaboration

Clients and developers talk before, during, and after sprints to make sure what’s being produced fits the client’s needs.

End users are part of the discussion whenever possible.

This focus in communication results in higher adoption rates since stakeholders are involved from the beginning.

Transparency lowers overall costs, as well. Clients see what happens as it happens.

They have more understanding of how their changes affect the schedule and budget, so they can plan revisions to be less disruptive.

Faster Response to Feedback

A workable product is created at the end of each sprint.

Clients have the opportunity to test and offer feedback that can be incorporated as early as the next sprint.

This structure allows for quick response to changing business requirements.

Producing earlier MVPs enables early beta testing, too.

Having customers test drive software while there’s still time to correct any major issues leads to better outcomes after general release.

Earlier Identification of Problems

Bugs are very inexpensive to correct when caught in the early stages of development, but they become more expensive as a project continues.

Fixing an error right before release costs up to six times as much as fixing the same error caught after one sprint.

The Agile method emphasizes regular testing.

With every feature being tested and cumulative quality checks at each sprint, fewer bugs make it into the final product.

Problems are usually found at the early stage when they’re simple to fix.

Software bugs aren’t the only problems revealed through the sprint structure.

Problems with overall scope and expectation mismatches are quickly made clear.

Developers have the option to break a project into more sprints, change future deliverables to meet adjusted guidelines, or even put features that don’t quite fit aside for later products.

Responsive to Changing Requirements

Change is a fact of life in enterprise software development.

Requirements often arise after development has begun. For example:

  • The software needs to interact with a new client database.
  • After some scheduling problems, the client realizes they need push notifications to remind people of meetings.
  • New regulations affect how data must be stored or transferred.
  • An exciting tool that would boost app security has just been released.

This would be a major disruption to a development method like Waterfall, where a project flows linearly from beginning to end.

Agile projects are built iteratively, however. Incoming adjustments can be worked into the remaining sprints.

Costs are lower, too, as previous work doesn’t need to be redone to accommodate the changes.

Quality. Communication. Responsiveness.

The Agile Manifesto reads like a recipe for successful software development.

It emphasizes client-developer communication, quality control, and rapid delivery of business value.

For companies pushing digital transformation efforts, those are benefits that can’t be overlooked.

One caveat: Agile development isn’t an entry level skill.

It takes skilled project managers to make agile run smoothly.

 

To find out how Agile should work and how it can make your next project a success, schedule a consultation with Concepta’s experienced staff.

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