An agile approach to People Analytics projects

Delivering complex technical projects is difficult. Agile development is an iterative approach to delivery. It has been widely adopted in the software development community and can be used to deliver People Analytics projects.

In this article, we discuss what problems Agile development attempts to overcome. We also offer some tips for delivering successful projects.

Problems? What problems?

Delivering complex projects on time and to budget is always challenging. HR project teams can benefit from the Agile approach to software development.

Agile development is an alternative to a waterfall approach to delivery. Waterfall breaks the development process into a series of distinct phases. Each phase must be complete before work begins on the next phase. It is a popular methodology and has advantages, particularly when requirements are easy to define.

Agile delivery is an attempt to manage the inherent difficulties of projects with complex requirements. It promotes early and frequent delivery and encourages continuous feedback and improvement.

Agile gives stakeholders the flexibility to define the detail of requirements during the project lifecycle and helps to prevent the development team from disappearing for long periods and becoming isolated from the project's fundamental objectives.

In some situations, a hybrid approach can be helpful. For example, a waterfall approach can be used to define the high-level requirements, costs and timescales. Agile can then support the iterative delivery and detailed requirements definitions within the agreed scope.

Team members and skills

A successful People Analytics project will often need many different skills. A typical project team might include people with the following skills or roles.

  • Data architects and developers
  • Data analysts and data scientists
  • Presentation and visualisation
  • Testing and quality assurance
  • Infrastructure and deployment specialists
  • Security and governance

Thinking in stories

In agile, user stories (also known as product backlog items) define the requirements. These are short descriptions of a required feature or behaviour, written from the user's perspective.

Writing user stories encourages a focus on the value to be delivered rather than the technical details of how they should be developed. Stories are grouped together in sets of features (or epics) to support project administration and tracking.

Stories undergo refinement before they are ready to be implemented. This process should ensure that the requirements are clear enough to work from and that the value of the work is evident.

When delivering a People Analytics project, the implementation lifecycle is likely to involve the following tasks.

  • Gathering customer requirements
  • Data acquisition
  • Data analysis
  • Creating draft reports and visualisations
  • Gathering user feedback
  • Operationalising the data processing
  • Pre-delivery testing and validation
  • Delivering the working reports and visualisations

An iterative approach

Deliver early and deliver often.

Agile teams typically work in two-week delivery cycles, delivering working software every iteration. Longer delivery cycles are possible, but two-week cycles are a sweet spot for most implementation teams.

Work to be undertaken in an iteration is agreed upon between the Product Owner and the implementation team as follows.

  • The team agrees on the scale of effort likely required to complete the user stories.
  • The Product Owner defines the relative priority of the outstanding backlog.
  • The Product Owner is able to continuously refine the project, whilst allowing the team to commit to their deliverables.

Composing the delivery effort of discrete chunks of effort has the benefit of encouraging stakeholders to give early and regular feedback. By adopting an agile approach, your People Analytics team can deliver working reports, dashboards and insight regularly and often. This gives stakeholders something tangible to review and comment on.

On reflection...

Short feedback loops are an underlying trend of agile projects. The short delivery cycles encourage implementation in smaller units of effort and therefore earlier feedback. Similarly, implementation teams often find benefits in reviewing their achievements (and what they can improve upon) in regular retrospective sessions.

People Analytics projects by their nature often involve people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets. There is often a clear separation between the data acquisition, analysis and presentation elements of reporting projects.

Regular communication and reviews can mitigate the risks of people working independently. Attention is focused on delivering to stakeholders and meeting the requirements of the end‑users.

Next steps

We help organisations of all sizes plan and implement people analytics.

Please get in touch if you'd like to discuss how we can help you.

Stephen Simmons is responsible for technical strategy and platform architecture at He leads the software development team and writes regular articles on data and technology.

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