The BI Cantos: Conducting Discovery Sessions


The BI Cantos: Conducting Discovery Sessions

An essential part of any business intelligence system plan is to collect information on the vital data workflows within your company.

An ounce of discovery is worth a pound of remediation.

-Adapted from Benjamin Franklin

During discovery, identify the business processes that comprise operations and provide data outputs. A typical list of workflows may include:

  • Order entry
  • Billing
  • Purchasing
  • Inventory management
  • Sales activities
  • Research & Development
  • Payroll systems
  • Marketing
  • Human Resources
  • Maintenance operations

Please alter the list to suit your needs. You aim to surface their wants and needs by engaging those who run and live in these workflows. The best way to organize these meetings is through the operational department.

Preparing for Discovery Sessions

People attending these discovery sessions should be experts in the examined workflows. The goal should be to review their two or three essential processes/workflows.

The more preparation time meeting participants have, the better. Two to three weeks advance notice works best. Providing examples of the materials they should bring to discovery sessions is helpful. Stressing the importance and purpose of the sessions for management, and from the perspective of team members who work inside each team, makes these sessions the linchpin of your project plan development. Request your executive sponsor’s participation for the first five minutes of each meeting to convey leadership’s commitment to the process.

Limit the duration of each meeting to two hours and keep the meeting size of three staff from each group plus your deployment team members. The best way to ensure that the time spent is valuable is to limit the time allotted for each meeting. If follow-up sessions are needed, you should communicate the scope of additional information gathering required in writing before the follow-up meeting.

Deliver an agenda for each meeting at least one week before the meeting date. A clear plan gives the workflow leaders enough time to prepare. They need to poll their teams, gather example material and reach a consensus on the needs they want to prioritize. A suggested meeting agenda should include the following:

  • Scope of the BI project
  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Explanation of timeline and cadence
  • Presentations
  • Discussion

The first three items require 15 minutes (at most) plus five minutes to introduce outside consultants participating. Give most of the time to the people who own the process/workflows. They must articulate their vision and provide examples. Ask them to describe how addressing their needs will improve decision-making, drive efficiency and reduce costs.

Suppose a team has workflows of interest to executive leadership. In that case, the communication with the agenda should provide additional guidance and a brief explanation that enlightens each group about the leadership’s reasons for asking them to consider specific areas.

How Long Should the Discovery Process Take?

The review process should require one to five days. Large companies of international scope may need several months to complete discovery work. The formula should be the same; keep individual work group discovery meetings up to two hours. Schedule follow-up meetings as necessary.

Virtual or In-Person Meetings?

There needs to be a consistent formula for conducting workflow discovery meetings. If you are engaging outside consultants, there is a lot of value in having in-person meetings so that your team members meet the consultants you have hired. These information-gathering sessions provide the grist for your project plan document and preliminary project budget. So, this step is essential. Think of these staff interviews as the payload in a metaphorical backpack for a wilderness trek. Load up on the stuff you use daily, and leave the “trifles” at home. Unnecessary burdens will slow you down and add unnecessary complexity.

During the discovery session, your deployment team will get to know the operational manager and key process staff whose work feeds the data workflow. Your deployment team should seek to understand what the operators want, why they need the data, and how they plan to utilize it. Gaining an appreciation for the use cases will inform the designs of the dashboards that will be the sprint output.

In the final section of Part I, I will discuss how to use the information collected in your meetings to develop detailed project deliverables.

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