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With so many teams “going agile,” it’s important for your BI team to keep a few things in mind that will help your agile transformation go more smoothly. This series, “10 Mistakes to Avoid In an Agile BI Transformation”, will show you how to prevent the most common pitfalls I’ve encountered in my experience as an Agile Coach.
Asking skilled individuals to work on multiple projects at the same time leads to waste in the form of task switching. In order to fully utilize our employees, we often put them on numerous projects. However, according to the American Psychological Association, when we move from one project to the next, called task switching, we lose up to 40 percent of our effectiveness in delivering value. That means if your employee is on two projects, he may be only 60 percent as effective as he would be on one. Another employee on three projects could be even worse off. An employee can report she’s busy 100 percent of the time, but if she’s only 20 percent as effective as she could be, she isn’t contributing much to organizational goals.
As mentioned above, agile BI managers keep teams together and ask them to focus on a single project until it’s complete.
Another method used by agile teams to reduce task switching is to limit the work in process (WIP) for the team as a whole as well as for each individual. Scrum, a popular agile framework, limits WIP by asking the team to only focus on what they can accomplish in a short time frame, called a sprint. Scrum teams pick a sprint length of one to four weeks and stick with that length sprint after sprint. This allows the team to learn how much work it can actually accomplish in that time. Going forward, the team only pulls into each sprint what the team members can commit to delivering. The time box in scrum effectively limits the team’s WIP for each sprint.
Another effective agile approach for controlling WIP is the lean-derived kanban framework, which identifies a limit on the number of things the team agrees to focus on at any point in time. For example, a kanban team might agree to only focus on three things at a time. One of those might be a long-running effort over many weeks, and the other two could be smaller tasks that, once completed, make “room” for other items to be pulled into WIP. Over the course of several weeks, the kanban team might complete 10 things, one of which took the whole time while the others were shorter in duration and moved through the process more quickly.
All successful agile BI teams I’ve worked with limit WIP in some form or another. Limiting work in process reduces task switching, which in turn increases effectiveness per hour of work.