Put Value on the Fast Track with Agile Information Management

In brief: 

  • Data leaders can expect some tough conversations with the c-suite if they fail to quickly deliver value in their Information Management (IM) initiatives.

  • But IM has long been viewed as a laborious process. 

  • The powerful practice of agile can help data executives accelerate progress and value delivery.

As a data leader, you’re constantly collaborating with peers from every part of your organization. And you probably find yourself needing to quantify the value that your data initiatives deliver—especially when you’re communicating with the C-suite.

You may get questions from Marketing or customer relationship management (CRM) about Information Management (IM)-related risks and challenges—think data access and interpretation, data quality, or data definition—associated with a major digital initiative. For example, you might be asked:  

  • We don't trust the data used for our marketing campaigns. Can we implement metadata tagging and establish data lineage now?
  • Our marketing reports never match, and there are discrepancies between how groups calculate and define key metrics. How soon can we have the data catalog and business glossary established?
  • Since customer consolidation is our top priority, when will we see the quality of our customer demographics data addressed?

These questions are inevitable because today’s leaders are under immense pressure to deliver immediate benefits to their business. Resist the urge to panic when the inquiries flood in. Instead, rely on agile practices to accelerate progress and value delivery in your IM initiatives. In this blog, we’ll show you how.

Understanding your unique data and organizational environment

In its simplest form, IM is how an organization governs and manages its data. Like any essential business asset, data requires disciplined management, focus, and leadership—as evidenced by the elevation of the Chief Data Officer role in recent years.

Before implementing agile practices, you need to understand your unique data environment and organizational culture. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the overall data maturity of my organization?
  • Do we have a data strategy?
  • What are priority in-flight business efforts and how do our IM capabilities connect to those efforts?
  • Have any past data initiatives failed?
  • What is our organization’s budgeting and funding model? Is it project or product-focus funding?
  • Does our culture support agile thinking and ways of working?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better understanding of your data environment and can begin to think about the best approach to managing that information and data.

A holistic view of Information Management

North Highland Information Management Component ModelAt North Highland, we take a holistic view of IM, centered around an organization’s overarching business strategy (see image).

Traditionally, many of the components of IM shown in the image to the right—like governance, metadata management, data quality, and data security & privacy—were viewed as long, arduous efforts that took a long time to bring to fruition. But they don’t have to be. You can leverage agile practices to deliver these components more quickly and efficiently.

Agile: Delivering near-term wins that align with long-term strategies  

With today’s rapid pace of change, the ability to flex and quickly respond to change is imperative. Agile is your key to keeping up.

Agile is a unique way of thinking about solving problems. It allows you to break down larger initiatives into smaller increments, with regular delivery and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans. In doing so, you are able to iteratively improve outcomes and bring value to your organization more quickly.

When it comes to IM, leveraging agile techniques helps you do just that. To demonstrate how, let’s return to the theoretical scenario we introduced at the beginning of this blog. Your Marketing and CRM peers have inquired about how to address the data trust concerns, how they can get a better handle on their reporting and metric discrepancies, and when they’ll see the quality of customer demographics data improve.

Using a three-step agile IM approach, you can quickly address these questions:   

Step one: Assess. The first step in this approach is all about understanding the root cause of the data challenges impacting your peers in the context of your organization’s overarching business strategy. Through interviews, surveys, workshops, and other observation techniques, you begin to have a better understanding of the issues and the impact on business outcomes. At this point, you can begin to use the component model to pinpoint which element of Information Management requires attention. In this example, the lack of trust in data sources, no agreed-upon taxonomy, and concerns around data quality highlight the need to focus on governance, metadata management, and data quality processes. Without these critical components, your business will fail to attain its strategic goals. You’ll need to ensure these are prioritized in your backlog—more on that in the next step.

Step two: Prioritize. The second step is all about ensuring the team is focused on the most important business needs at any given time. By the end of the “Assess” step, you should have a solid understanding of your peers’ concerns and an idea of the items you need to prioritize in your backlog to address those concerns—in this case, governance roles, operating structures, and processes, including metadata tagging and data quality. Now it’s time to act on those priorities.

In step one, you determined that one of the C-suite’s key business concerns is to improve customer targeting. To meet this mandate, you know what you need to do: establish a process for acquiring additional customer demographics data to support personalized interactions with customers. This will mean building out data pipelines from a new data source into CRM’s Salesforce instance. Applying agile, you will prioritize a vertical slice of business definitions and metadata tagging for the most critical account attributes. This will allow you to quickly deliver usable data to your business customers, which is far more valuable to the C-suite than documenting the entire enterprise business glossary (which could take months and fail to deliver the value needed).

Step three: Iteratively deliver. The third step, iteratively delivering, is all about taking those items you’ve prioritized and planning, executing, reviewing, and adapting as needed. What does this step look like in action? Once you’ve outlined your priorities in step two, you’ll want to select the highest priority items to focus on in the first sprint. Lower priority items will remain in the backlog to be tackled in subsequent sprints, after the top priority items are completed.

By homing in on a smaller, more manageable slice of priorities in each sprint, you can make meaningful progress and deliver value on those items more quickly. Additionally, stakeholders can provide valuable, targeted feedback that will help you iterate and improve along the way. As you move through sprints, it’s critical to keep a pulse on changes in business goals and objectives to ensure priorities are aligned. This will allow you to refine the backlog as needed. Additionally, don’t forget to put people at the center of all of your efforts. If you wish to achieve your business objectives, you must support your workforce in learning new, agile ways of working, which require behavioral changes and mindset shifts.

For organizations of every size and in every industry, the expectation is to deliver value quickly and in smaller iterations. After all, continuous transformation is becoming “business as usual,” and multi-year transformations are a thing of the past. By assessing, prioritizing, and iterating as you deliver, you’ll make progress on critical IM efforts early and often, continuously improve, and be an enabler of accelerated transformation.