Impact Insights

Enhancing Analytics Using Scrum

Mark Leifer

If you are reading this blog, you should understand that even the simplest of healthcare analytics projects present unique challenges, like input from multiple stakeholders, disconnect between customers and IT, and development teams broken into specific silos. What can be done to overcome these unique challenges? The answer: Scrum.

Simply put, Scrum is a method for implementing Agile, a software development methodology using an incremental and iterative development approach. While there are other Agile methodologies – Kanban, Lean Software Development, Extreme Programming (XP), etc. – Scrum is becoming the most widely used. In fact, 54% of organizations practicing Agile are using Scrum. Scrum has gained traction mainly because of its simplicity, proven productivity and ability to incorporate other various Agile methodologies.

In my experience, there are three main benefits to be realized from using Scrum in analytics projects:

  • Enhanced customer ownership and accountability
  • More efficient development process and execution
  • Improved customer satisfaction

Enhanced customer ownership and accountability

Perhaps the most valuable benefit of Scrum is the increased role of the customer. With Scrum, the customer is represented by a Product Owner, an operational representative who oversees the end-to-end development of the analytics product. With traditional project management, IT is often driving, steering the customer to where they want to go. With Scrum, the Product Owner is responsible for the product’s success by providing the vision and overall project direction. In other words, the key milestones and success factors are provided by operations rather than IT.

The diagram below summarizes how the Product Owner is engaged throughout the Scrum process.

More efficient development process and execution

Another Scrum benefit is that product development is done by collaborative, self-organizing teams who decide how the work should be done. Led by the Product Owner and supported by a Scrum Master, the Scrum development team consists of five to seven specialists who possess all the skills required to complete the product. This is often a mix of analysts, developers, engineers and informaticists.

This blended team follows the Scrum principle of producing an acceptable working product (Minimally Viable Product, or MVP) using a series of time-boxed sprints that only focus on work approved by the Product Owner. Performing the development work in smaller increments (sprints) with frequent demonstrations enables a Scrum team to break the required work into manageable units while also being flexible and adaptable to business needs.

Utilizing daily, 15-minute check-in meetings, or “Scrums,” the Scrum team can quickly synchronize and answer three questions for each team member:

  • What did I complete yesterday?
  • What will I complete today?
  • What problems are holding me back?

These daily meetings improve communications, eliminate other meetings, identify impediments to development, highlight and promote quick decision-making, and improve the development team’s level of knowledge, all of which lead to more efficient product execution.

Improved customer satisfaction

With projects using the Scrum approach there is also greater customer (user) satisfaction. A key reason for this is that the users are seeing useable portions of completed product quicker. This allows them the opportunity to try out the product and report their findings back to the Scrum team. This is a critical factor in the overall success of the project. As feedback is received, certain previously approved requests may no longer be required, in which case, unnecessary work will be saved and the overall project can be completed sooner than originally scheduled. Conversely, defects are identified during the development process and can be corrected before the final product is deployed.

Using Scrum as part of a well-defined analytics program will help organizations realize better product development through improved partnerships with operations and more efficient development teams. Scrum places operations in the driver’s seat, via the Product Owner role, allowing them to shift from being a passenger to being the navigator of the organization’s analytics journey. The increased operational participation enables the development teams to more quickly meet the requirements for delivering a successful product, which results in increased end user satisfaction.