Lean-Agile Projects You Will Do Again and Again

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Summary:
How many times have you seen this scenario? Several years ago, someone created a spreadsheet to support the work of a department. They kept tweaking it, adding functionality; maybe even migrated it to Microsoft Access… and now it has become a mission-critical mess! And you can’t afford to let the employee move on to something else.

How many times have you seen this scenario? Several years ago, someone created a spreadsheet to support the work of a department. They kept tweaking it, adding functionality; maybe even migrated it to Microsoft Access… and now it has become a mission-critical mess! And you can’t afford to let the employee move on to something else.

It is time to bring this application up to date: both to mitigate the risk and to scale it out.

This is the sort of project that crops up all too frequently in the enterprise.

This is the story of how Premier, Inc. used Lean-Agile software development to bring one such project to completion quickly, with less waste and complexity, and started using it quicker than normal. It is an approach you can use again and again.

The Premier healthcare alliance brings nationwide knowledge to improve local healthcare. It does this by providing solutions to collect and analyze clinical and financial data from its more than 2,200 member hospitals and 64,000 non acute-care members.

Ken Tompkins, Sr. Director of Business Analytics for Premier Purchasing Partners, oversees the analytical division, supporting the field force with essential data analysis.

Ten years ago, the sales force needed to document to member hospitals (customers) exactly “what Premier had done for me lately.” Ken’s boss tapped him to put his computer science degree to use to figure out a way to show them the numbers. He created a simple PowerPoint with four quadrants: Goals, Plans, Benchmarks, and Results. The members liked the presentation but wanted the details.

Next year, Ken created an Excel spreadsheet with the four quadrants and a tab of detail for each quadrant. Every project that saved a member (customer) money would get documented in the detail tab. And so it evolved and expanded. Leadership in other regions began to use it in their sales meetings. It became standard operating procedure for all directors, using the tool to document how they were saving members money and improving processes. They added historical data and trend analysis.

Suddenly, what started as a simple PowerPoint had become hundreds of Excel files flying back and forth between the internal analytics department and the field. Ken had two good analysts devoted almost full time to tracking these spreadsheets and keeping them up to date… and fixing them when a sales person would “improve” her own spreadsheet and introduce a bug.

How did they get into this mess?

Lacking funding and resources, Ken got tapped again to bring some rationality to the system: a single database, a single format, traceable business rules, etc. What would you do? He gathered a few people and merged these spreadsheets into an Access database that they could throw out onto the network. It had some rudimentary security and the minimum set of forms, tables, queries, and reports to get it up and running. But it didn’t scale when people from Washington state to Maine to California all wanted to log in to manage and report on 35,000 projects. Certainly, it did not work well for those trying to access it from a PDA on the train.

After two years, leadership recognized they needed to do better. They prioritized a project to use Lean-Agile software development to make a robust, reliable system. And to free Ken from having to support this tool for the rest of his career.

That is the history of the project. Below is a conversation about the project between Ken and Guy Beaver, Vice-President of Net Objectives and a senior consultant in Lean-Agile.

Coach: The demonstration after the first iteration was a little

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