How SAS R&D does agile

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Call SAS and you’ll be connected to a real person. That value is important to us. Visit any SAS user event and you’ll meet employees genuinely interested in listening to customer feedback ... employees from every division, even from the internal groups like Research & Development. Capturing customer feedback is vital, but only a start. Equally key is what SAS does with that information and how we factor customer input into plans for new or updated product releases.

In short, SAS responds by applying its own touch to the well-known agile practices.

“Agile” is an attitude of flexibility and nimbleness. It’s also the common name for a type of process workflow known as Agile Scrum. At SAS, we’re leading the way in both dimensions. That is, agile is a long-standing core value (#3: Be swift and agile), and it is also how we work.

Walk the halls in R&D and you’ll hear people speaking about their sprints and stories, you’ll see teams having scrums, and you’ll sense that they’re engaged in both planning and implementation. Sprints? Scrums? Stories? Jargon like this comes from the Agile Scrum. In effect, it’s a new way to apply older time-tested software development principles.  Principles like laser-focus within short time-boxes (also known as sprints), collaborating together to work on plans and customer requirements (stories), holding frequent 15-minute checkpoints to share news and remove delays if issues arise (scrums), and providing internal demonstrations throughout the project life-cycle.

Since 2008, SAS has provided training on Agile Scrum to over 2,000 employees. Dr. Laurie Williams of North Carolina State University has led the way in helping educate SAS, augmented with coaching along the way. Implementing agile is a journey and the mindset has touched virtually every aspect of how SAS R&D works.

Most interesting has been how we’ve progressed with agile. Rewind the tape and you won’t find a top-down edict. You won’t find a crisis needing a solution. You’ll find teams that already were successful, yet sought innovative approaches. What you’ll find is a top-level champion and a steady stream of grass-roots adoption. You’ll find teams free to customize the set of agile practices most appropriate to their needs.

The world runs on software. The pace of change is accelerating, as are customer needs. Now with enterprise-wide adoption of agile practices, SAS is poised better than ever to respond nimbly to changes in the marketplace -- so that more of the world can run on SAS.

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About Author

Tim Arthur

Principal R&D Program Manager

Tim Arthur holds his MS from Georgia Institute of Technology in Management of Technology. He is a Program Manager as well as innovator and agile champion within SAS at Cary, NC. Prior, he worked for IBM, leading cutting-edge software development projects for global 24x7 mission-critical manufacturing processes. Away from work you’ll find him kayaking, biking, enjoying photography or helping with non-profits.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Tim,
    First of all Wishing you a very happy new year 2015. I have learnt a lot about
    SAS BI TOOLS, PROGRAMMING, AGILE SRUM methodology and I love it. My question is I know how the Agile Scrum Methodology implemented for the development of software but as SAS is a reporting analytical tool how Agile is used in reporting?

  2. Robby Powell

    Hey Madhu,
    The success of an organization is based on its ability to make decisions: 1) to drive internal change, and 2) to rapidly adapt to external changes. Agile BI enables organizations to extract knowledge from information and quickly base business decisions on that knowledge. SAS Visual Analytics, for example, enables agile BI by:
    1) providing a complete end-to-end Business Analytics platform from within a single environment,
    2) combining BI and predictive analytics as integral capabilities required to provide precise insight,
    3) enabling business users with drag-and-drop access to self-service BI, and predictive analytic techniques, and
    4) rendering analytic results using advanced data visualization techniques that are easy to understand.

    Agility is crippled by restrictions and rigid processes. BI tools typically require that the questions to be asked be defined before the dashboard is created, and external tools are typically required for analytical data prep. Additionally, most BI tools do not include predictive analytics. SAS Visual Analytics allows you to perform data prep, analytic data exploration, report creation, distribution and viewing; and platform administration, all without leaving the Visual Analytics application. That increases productivity by allowing you to prepare your data, perform analytic data exploration to gain insight, then create BI dashboards directly from that insight. Data exploration is iterative. Agile data exploration allows you to explore your data more deeply to keep asking the next question – to gain deeper insight – and to share those insights with decision-makers in your organization.

    Agility is stifled by complex feedback loops. Dashboards distributed from SAS Visual Analytics are interactive and can be customized by viewers of them. So rather than viewing a static dashboard, decision-makers can dig into the details and try various scenarios to get direct answers to their questions without having to go back to IT or business analysts to ask.

    Agile tools must be intuitive, and powerful. Predictive analytic techniques, and analytic results are only useful if they are understandable. SAS Visual Analytics enables business users to access predictive analytic techniques through a drag-and-drop interface, and see the results in easy-to-understand data visualizations.

    For more information, check out “The Forrester Wave™: Agile Business Intelligence Platforms”.

    Hope my long reply helps with your understanding of Agile BI.

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