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Alteryx

Agile pods need agile data

By Nick Jewell, Director of Product Strategy, Alteryx Inc.

Business structures evolve in response to the pressures and opportunities of the moment. The digital age has seen a wide array of organisational structures come to fore, but in the last decade or so much the focus has been on ‘agile project management’. In their 2018 Data & Analytics Summit, Gartner highlighted the benefits of a pod-based organisational structure. But what is an agile pod structure, what benefits can it deliver, and how can companies go about making the system work for them? Let’s untangle the jargon.

What is an agile pod? Agile pods are small teams made up of four to eight people. Each team is given complete ownership of a set of responsibilities by a senior manager, and it is their mission to see that these tasks are completed in the most efficient and effective manner possible. The theory goes that, because team members are responsible for the planning, delivery and quality of their outputs, they feel more motivated to do a great job. In addition, because lines of communication are shortened within a small team, results are generated faster and more precisely.

What do agile pods need to function effectively? The ‘agile’ school of project management has evolved in line with the available tech. In recent years, technologies working with the Scrum and Kanban collaboration techniques have helped many businesses innovate faster. New ways of communicating, such as video conferencing and the re-emergence of business-grade instant messaging tools have also played a role. And, of course, the internet has put so much information at people’s fingertips that desk research has all but eaten away the role of traditional research units at many companies.

However, arguably the most business-critical technological development of the digital age has been the data revolution. As the availability of data and data analytics technology has improved, businesses have been using data to inform every strategic move. And it is important that they do this at every level to inform strategy at a macro and micro focus. As such, agile pods need the capability of handling data with agility to switch focus and drive the right results.

Why does the agile pod methodology require a fresh approach to data? One of the biggest challenges for teams transitioning from a top-down system to a pod-based organisational structure is the availability of good data. With the top-down approach, the senior management team would bank on a crack squad of data scientists to inform their business strategy, and that would be passed down through the ranks of knowledge workers and inform non-knowledge workers’ tasks. With the agile pod methodology, each team needs to be able to easily access and manipulate data in a way that works towards their goals and matches their style of working. As such, accessible self-service data analytics software is key for these teams to be the best that they can be.

Different businesses have different approaches to their pods. Some are small groups with a collectively wide skill set that can take on a wide range of tasks, and some will be highly specialised and focus on a particular niche within the business. However, one challenge faced by most pods is that they won’t have a highly trained data scientist on hand to help them take a data-led approach, and this can have a massive impact on their efficacy.

To overcome this challenge, businesses should empower their pods by providing them with quality data and the tools they need to manipulate it. Modern, self-service data analytics technology allows a core team of data scientists to manage and verify data sets, ensuring that workers are only working from reliable data to generate reliable results. Then, talented workers with an interest in and an aptitude for data can work at learning how to manipulate the data within a platform. This works in much the same way as how a regular line of business employee can become an effective designer through using PowerPoint, provided they have an eye for design.

Completing the transition to a pod-based organisational structure Before making the transition, businesses need to make sure that all the tools and managerial structures are in place to enable the structure to start delivering results straight away. Most businesses will make the switch incrementally, department by department, to give them the opportunity to troubleshoot as necessary and tweak their strategy for a wider rollout. Whilst most line-of-business personnel will think about the basics of adjusting to the new system, it’s crucial that management doesn’t forget what lies at the heart of their business strategy, from top to bottom: Data.

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