At the Agile Business Conference 2008

11 October 2008

I’ve just returned from another highly successful Agile Business Conference. Although this is the fifth time it’s been held, this was the first time it was held at the giant ExCel Conference Centre in London’s docklands. As usual, there was something for everyone.

This year, there were two distinct streams spread over the three conference rooms. The first stream was targeted at those unfamiliar with Agile techniques and started from the basics, of what is meant by Agile, and then a comparison with the three most popular approaches: Atern, Scrum and XP.

The second stream was aimed at those who were more familiar with agile techniques. The highlights in this stream included a discussion on how agile techniques were used in a development of a safety-critical train-control mechanism. What was particularly interesting here was that commercial competition forced the organisation to cut reduce the original timescales by twelve months while still meeting the standards demanded by an independent safety authority. One interesting technique used was two stages of unit test: the first stage was used by the programming team to ensure that their code passed its low-level tests; the second level of unit-test was performed by an independent, offshore team. This team was free to leave untouched, amend or replace the original tests as appropriate. This two-stage approach ensured that few programming errors reached the integration- and system-testers (performed by another independent team, based in the UK).

Another presentation dealt with contractual issues that arise when performing agile projects. Four kinds of contracts were suggested, with the third being the most suitable:

  • time and materials;

  • fixed bid (price and/or scope and/or schedule);

  • fixed cost per unit of work (eg story point, use-case point or function point); or

  • a hybrid of any of the above.

It was suggested that they best approach would be a time-and-materials approach to the first phase, followed by fixed cost per unit of work for subsequent phases. For this approach to work successfully, the following techniques were suggested in addition:

  • the use of a Head Contract and one or more Work Orders, in the style of Evolutionary Acquisition; and

  • to jointly and iteratively develop the contract.

Other presentations showed how agile techniques are being adopted increasingly by large organisations such as E.ON, BT and Standard Life. The key lessons learnt by these organisations were that implementing agile techniques was:

  • a programme of work rather than a one-off project;

  • a cultural change rather than just a process or methodology change;

  • collaborative working should extend to contract negotiation and procurement.

All things considered, it was a highly successful experience – bring on the 2009 conference!

Success Stories

"Agilier's experience in managing business processes made them an ideal candidate to manage functional integration thereby reducing a significant risk to the business. This involved them working with the workstream leads and developing a high-level integrated businesses process against which we planned our programme."

Chris Davies
Programme Manager, EADS Defence and Communications Systems


"I was extremely happy with the professional and complete way that Agilier performed their work and would not hesitate to use their services again."

Mike Haynes
Senior Project Manager, Cogent Defence and Security Networks


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