An Introduction to Scrum, the Enterprise Data Warehouse

The Challenge

Our client’s Enterprise Data Warehouse department was tasked with providing their customers a centralized, intuitive, timely, and comprehensive business data solution to enable the organization in making more strategic business decisions based on pharmacy analytics, enrollment and claims data, and quality-of-care reporting.  With a recent history of project deliverables that never quite satisfied their customers (as evidenced by low adoption rates) and unpredictable delivery, an astute leadership team realized that they needed a different approach that allowed for greater customer engagement and better responsiveness to changing customer needs.

Our Observations

Leadership had already taken some positive steps toward an Agile delivery methodology.  Co-location and cross-functional team members were being established as departmental norms.  However there was no clear understanding of team capacity in relation to the numerous work requests received from various segments of the business.  Frustration resulted from an inability to deliver on commitments, and the relationship between the business and the data warehouse department was strained. Business priority was unclear, and it was difficult to understand work remaining, or have confidence in the delivery schedule.  Collaboration meetings were usually held by phone (although participants were co-located), and there was a lack of strong team engagement.

Our Approach

With the support of our client’s leadership team, Plaster Group employed a three-pronged approach to help alleviate the frustration and delivery challenges:

  • Scrum Framework – By employing the Scrum framework, a delivery cadence was established to bring about consistency and predictability in project deliverables.
  • Training – By providing training to the organization, a baseline understanding of the Scrum methodology was established in a very short time, getting everyone on the same page
  •  Agile Coaching – By enabling team empowerment, an environment was created to foster a better connection and engagement between people and the work they do.

The Solution: Scrum Framework

By leveraging the Scrum framework ceremonies, such as the Sprint Planning ceremony, it became possible to facilitate a deeper engagement between development teams and stakeholders, and to increase clear communication on expected deliverables, mitigating any ambiguity with requirements. Complete transparency on business expectations and development team commitments with regards to dates and functionality delivered over short iterations ensured that teams were in better alignment with the business.  Maintaining team composition was emphasized over changing team membership arbitrarily.  Clear roles were defined (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Delivery Team), and responsibilities were elucidated.  There was emphasis on the Product Owner role, and the importance of chasing down requirements and clarifying questions so that the development team could focus on their work and not be distracted or delayed by ambiguities in understanding requirements.  Daily Scrums would be held collaboratively, and in-person when teams were co-located.  Two-week sprints were established and User Stories employed to carry requirements.  Sprint Retrospectives were scheduled regularly to ensure everyone had a voice and there was attention to continuous improvement.

Training

To best align efforts, expectations, and understanding, training in the Scrum framework was provided to not only the development teams, but also to stakeholders and potential Product Owners.  Scrum roles and responsibilities were taught to all participants.  Product ownership was stressed as an integral part of Scrum, and collaboration throughout the process between the business and IT was presented as a critical component in “building the right thing AND building the thing right.”

Agile Coaching

Providing guidance to the development team, Product Owner, and management during the process of transition, keeping Agile practices in the forefront, and creating awareness of important information via the use of information radiators were all components of the coaching approach in support of the Scrum Framework.  Coaching also centered around creating an environment to help foster a connection between team members, their work, and their understanding of commitment.  Coaching at the individual level, as well as the team level, was done to help individuals develop an understanding of empowerment in Scrum, and how they could organize their work, and themselves, as a team.

Results

The first team to adopt Scrum delivered a data universe suitable to the needs of the end users, stakeholders, and subject matter experts. Subsequent teams were formed and followed a similar pattern, implementing Scrum and executing two-week sprints.  End users and stakeholders were delighted with results, and end users began rolling off an older, less reliable system.
The development team met regularly with the Product Owner and reviewed requirements, breaking them down into User Stories with clear and measurable acceptance criteria.  This allowed no room for ambiguity either in what was expected by the business or what the team would deliver. The time-box and scope for the sprint was mutually agreed upon. Based on completion of pulled work, a velocity expressed in story points was recorded.  After only a few iterations, the team was able to examine remaining work and estimate output per sprint, allowing for a release schedule and timeline for major milestones. This created a sense of transparency with the business as they could see and adjust the plan with the cooperation of the delivery team.  Since the development team created the timeline out of estimates based on empirical evidence, they felt in control of the commitment being made, revisiting the estimates as more information became available.
At the end of each iteration, the team would demonstrate work completed to the product owner, business customers, and stakeholders in a Sprint Review.  The ability to watch the product unfold each sprint allowed for a dialogue between the development team and the product owner as new needs arose and priorities evolved.  The business was free to alter the plan as dictated by business need, and the team was free to modify the timeline based on requirements that were either added or removed. There was increased attention and focus on the most important business priorities.
By partnering with leadership, Plaster Group was able to apply a successful strategy to bridge the communication gap between stakeholders and the EDW team, create a reliable schedule for work delivery, deliver a strong product out of the EDW, and ultimately meet the greatest needs of their customers.